Thursday, 31 March 2011

So who are you? A manifestation of the human spirit or a failed reality?

The world in which you were born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you they are unique manifestations of the human spirit. Wade Davis

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Comedies always have to end with a wedding ...

On Saturday night we went to the newly reopened Théatre du Châtelard and saw Les Juifs by Gottfried Lessing. The production is the first time the play has been produced in French and it was interesting to see such a German play but in French. Our neighbours from the copropriété Hervé Loichemol and Anne Durand directed and acted in the lively and very carefully thought through production. It was good to be in the newly renovated theatre and to bump into folk we know there. How amazing to be able to walk to a first class theatre production less than five minutes from my front door.
I have never seen or read the play in German. Although it is a comedy, it is almost impossible to see it today without being struck by the tragic undertow of the story. The way that Jews are referred to in the play is of course heard by us today in the light of the holocaust that took place two hundred years after it was written, but also now in many other ways. Today you could hear similar things said about Muslims in most parts of Europe, and other parts of the so-called "civilised" world too.
There is a love story between two individuals which is cut short by the weight of society's deep prejudice. You can save a man's life, save his fortune, win his respect and his friendship. Yet because you belong to a despised religion you cannot marry his daughter. Generosity will not in this instance be repaid with anything other than shock and disdain. Lessing allows some crumbs of understanding to dawn amongst the characters. They appear to step away from some of their absolute anti-semitism, but only because of the extreme graciousness of the generous Jewish character - who is of course almost too good to be true. Comedies traditionally always end with a wedding and this play so very nearly does too. In the end though the young women curls up and weeps in incomprehension. The Jew walks away, lonely in his generosity. He has no other option.
Have we learnt the lessons? Did anyone learn Lessing's lesson?
Played for laughs it is a deeply serious story. It spoke to me of how deeply engrained and irrational our hatreds and prejudices are, how hard, impossible even it can be to leave them behind if society itself is not open enough to allow individuals that freedom.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Water the source of life – and not of violence - reflection by Priscille Djomhoue

Women carrying water, Nile, Egypt. Photo: Walwyn/Flickr

Over on Seven Weeks for Water Professor Priscille Djomhoue reflects on the resonances between women's lives in the Bible and present day Africa. She also tells stories of women and girls suffering terrible violence and vulnerability because of lack of access to decent water and sanitation. Yet she asserts clearly "Water is the source of life, not of violence".

Here are two tasters from her meditation:

in many developing countries, not everyone has access to drinking water. In towns and in rural areas water is worth its weight in gold. People often have to travel long distances to find a supply of water in a river or a spring, and then carry it on their heads or their backs, exposing them to the risks of malformation of the spine or other back troubles. In many town areas, as is often the case in Cameroon, water has to be bought from a neighbour who has been able to have a well dug or who has mains water. That is not a new situation, since in the Bible, water was often such a scarce commodity that mention is made of people paying for it (Num. 20:17-19; Lam. 5:4).

In Africa, many women are denied their rights and do not have the money to buy water from their neighbours. This situation makes them vulnerable when an urgent need for water arises. In September 2009 in Yaoundé, in an area called Mendong, two young girls under the age of 12 were regularly sexually abused by the man in charge of the well where they often had to go to fetch water for their mothers. The police took up the matter, but it was too late. The physical and psychological damage done to them was immense.


Pretty little books by Elisabeth Ivanovsky

I managed to resist the first time I saw these lovely mini books by Elisabeth Ivanovsky but when in Paris last week I gave in and bought myself these 25 tiny little books, which are beautiful reproductions of books first published in the 1940s.
For me they are very evocative of the drawings and commentaries that my aunt used to do first in Berlin and then in London at the same period. Here books of drawing were bigger than these but have a similar flavour, Ivanovsky, like my aunt, was also a migrant. Perhaps that's part of what this style evokes for me.
Anyway, these really are books as works of art and I treasure them and love them. Tiny, pretty, pointless books that speak to me of fun, beauty, attention to detail, poetry and art. Looking at them makes me happy.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Believing in the little things - a lenten liturgy of fragments and cherry blossom

This morning we tweeted as part of worship - you can read our tweets at http://twitter.com/oikoumene. It was an interesting experiment, we did low tech tweeting with pencil and paper and I typed the tweets into the site in themed groups in free moments during the day.
Tweets are of course just little things, fragments of communication, yet even in just 140 keystrokes you can say something meaningful, you can link to a photo or audio file, to an article or video. You can try to "hook" people, you can make statements and of course you can also preach and pray using the medium.
Today I tried to get people to tweet in four ways - first a tweet of confession of brokenness, after that a tweet of hope for just peace after hearing the assurance of forgiveness and listening to Isaiah 52, then a tweeted biblical reflection on Matthew 6 25-33 - the lilies of the field; and finally prayer tweets of intercession for peace and justice.
We had a group of people from the Danish churches so many of today's tweets were in Danish, others were in German, French, Swahili and Tagalog (I think ...) so I had an interesting time typing them up - especially as Twitter was painfully slow this afternoon.

I did not preach but as an invitation to the biblical reflection I took with me a small branch of a pink flowering prunus. The gospel reading we listened to - in French - was of the lilies of the field. Yesterday I read this moving and beautifully written article by Joji Sakurai on cherry blossom and transience as a source of strength. She wrote:

For the Japanese, it will be a particularly poignant sight. Even in normal times, the flowers are a cause for rejoicing tinged with sadness, because they fall at the moment of their greatest beauty. They are the embodiment of a notion that is central to Japanese culture — "hakanasa," a hard-to-translate word that conveys the fragility, or evanescence, of life.
I was moved to learn that the cherry blossom is also the symbol of valour for the Samurai. this prompted me to think about how we so often have such grandiose plans for our projects - our peace-making and events too. Our work for a just peace today needs somehow to be like cherry blossom willing to bloom beautifully and then let go. Just-peace can never be about something set in stone. I believe in the little fragile things, in the arpilleras of the stitching peace exhibition, in the petals that gently fall and look like snow, in folk who find time to have a meal with one another and in the transience rather than in the permanence of our witness, in the God of small things. Like the cherry blossom, Christ too was at his most evanescent just before his life ended - how else can you read and understand his passionate words and actions, his foot washing in John's gospel, if it is not in some way about a vital fragile blossoming: "That all may be one".

If the blossom does not fall there will of course be no fruit. Only sacrifice bears fruit.

Here are two tweets written by someone at this morning's service, they sum up fragmentally but succinctly some of what I'm trying to say.

#IEPC Is 52:7 Mt 6:25 Transient lives contributing to the justice mercy & peace on earth

#IEPC Is 52:7 Mt 6:25 Transient blooms that bring everlasting beautiful memories
I grew up in blossom country in the Vale of Evesham, and thinking about the cherry blossom reminded me of A. E. Houseman's Loveliest of trees the cherry now ... which has its own strong intimations of mortality and celebration of nature. I like the idea of spring and winter almost being one in terms of the beauty, how the snow reminds of the springtime blossom. How sad that when I was studying it at school I never quite reached such gentle understanding of it. Now I can see how this deep human understanding of passing seasons and transience links east and west, north and south.

This evening coming home on the bus I realised that I shall never really be a systematic theologian but always a fragmentic theologian. Outside the main entrance to the Ecumenical Centre a prunus is in flower next to the white cross outside the chapel, it always makes me smile to see that in springtime, even on a wet grey morning like today. And seeing it reminded me of this which we sang in the chapel at the end of last winter, when spring was merely a vague promise, but nevertheless on the way:

“O make our barren trees to grow, our hands to blossom,
and let our lives bring forth such fruit that heals our neighbours’ grief and pain.”

It's by a Norwegian artist and hymn writer called Svein Ellingsen.

Poetry about blossom, thinking about the transience of blossom gives me strength, reminds me of the orchard in the garden at home and pure pleasure at beauty. It also offers a slightly subversive paradigm to my understanding, one that is glorious, mystical and filled with both pain and perfume. It is good to be a fragmentic theologian, a source of tearful strength.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Results of the Wine Tasting









Dr B writes: It was a wonderful evening sharing friendship and quotations about wine. Here are a few:

Wer nicht liebt Wein, Weib und Gesang, der bleibt ein Thor sein Leben lang - Martin Luther

Age is just a number. It's totally irrelevant, unless, of course, you happen to be a bottle of wine - Joan Collins

Women and wine should life employ. Is there ought else on earth desirous - John Gay

No longer drink only water but take a little wine, it's good for digestion and good medicine for what ails you - 1 Timothy 5:23

Wein saufen ist Sünde, Wein trinken ist beten, Lasset uns beten - Theodor Heuss


We also put together an unscientific ranking of the wine tasting based on how from each bottle was drunk on Friday evening. Here are the results with the most popular at the top, and with links to the vineyards and information on where to buy the wines:

Red wines

1. Domaine Borie de Maurel, Minervois 2008, Esprit de l'Automne, Felines Minervois,
available from Caves de Vins, Grand'Rue, Ferney Voltaire http://www.cavevinsdefrance.fr/








2. Chateau Picon, Bordeaux Superieur 2009, Eynesse,
available from Carrefour Market, Avenue Voltaire, Ferney Voltaire









3. Domaine de l'Hortus,
Coteaux de Languedoc Pic St Loup 2009, Valflaunes,
available from Caves de Vin, Ferney Voltaire










4. Chateau Brown, Le Co
lombier de Brown, Pessac-Leognan 2008, Leognan,
available from Vins Nicolas, Centre Commercial, Thoriy










5. Domaine de Mucelle, Pinot Noir, VdP Ain 2009, Challex,

available from Vins Nicolas, Centre Commercial, Thoriy










6. Chateau des Coccinelles, Côtes du Rhône 2008, Domazan
,
available from Caves de Vin, Ferney Voltaire (last bottles in stock)









7. Domaine du Sacré Coeur, Pierre Trouée, St Chinian 2009, Assignan,

available from Carrefour Market, Avenue Voltaire, Ferney Voltaire









8.
La Cave de Geneve, La Clémence, Gamaret de Genève 2009, Satigny,
available from the Coop, Geneva









White wines


1. Huber & Bleger, Vin d'Alsace, Gewuzrtraminer 2009, St Hippolyte,
available from Carrefour, Segny










2. Clotilde Davenne, St Bris 2009, Préhy,

available from Carrefour, Segny











3. Chateau Bichon Cassignols, Graves 2009, La Brède,

available from Caves de Vin, Ferney Voltaire










Vins de Pays des Coteaux d'Enserune, Chardonnay & Viognier 2010,
availlable from Carrefour Market, Ferney - not classified as it was also the aperitif de bienvenue ...

Birthday wine tasting

The weekend has been pleasantly busy with social pursuits as we celenbrated Stephen's birthday with a wine-tasting on Friday evening and Saturday morning. It was good to take time out with friends and fun to put together wine and cheese to share together.
Everyone attending brought a quote about wine. More details in a special guest post by Dr B.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Word of the day - entonnoir à conversion

Those who follow me on twitter know that I attended a good seminar on social media last week at the university of Geneva. One of the terms I really liked was "entonnoir à conversion" - conversion funnel.
I suppose it made me smile that a term which has very clear theological overtones for me is really just a blatant way to get people to find their way more easily around websites and even spend money there.
However advocacy websites need to provide some kind of similar simple pay off. Too often we make it really complicated for people to sign a petition, upload a photo or click and say they agree or support us. In the facebook quick click "like" generation we really need to get with the programme. Too often we get obsessed with wanting information from people rather than in building the relationship and facilitating involvement.
More about the seminar in coming days - it's given me lots ot think about.
However oddly enough it was the theological topic of conversion that was the conversion funnel that got me into blogging, as this blog started with a blog about ethical conversion.

Le miel du rocher - concrete turns to honey in St Denis















We came back from our afternoon wandering around the multicultural streets of St Denis with some little pots of miel béton - concrete honey! Far from being concrete the honey is runny and fragrant. It comes from the "banque de miel" which has some buzzy and bee-like qualities on its website and also has a blog. So you've got the idea this is urban honey, these days with all the worries about the health of bees, urban bees are often those who seem to show the least dign of illness - partly because tehre is little chance of them feeding on monocultures.
Anyway if we do end up living in St Denis I think I'll try and invest in heaven (investir le ciel) and become part of this brilliant project which makes sweet honey come from the concrete rock. I love the fact that the banque de miel is run by the "parti poétique"! Now of course in secular France I should perhaps not point out to them that the image is straight from those poems in the Bible called the Psalms - le miel du rocher Psalm 81.16 - I think a modern translation would be honey from concrete.
Long may the urban bees produce honey for us.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Two mice and a piece of cheese


Yes, I know a very silly picture, but it made us laugh. I'll have you know that is a particularly delicious bit of Laguiole, very tasty.

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Do no harm, leave a lingering trace ...

Bits and pieces of our lives interact in the living room piling system and the fragments of life made up of old newspapers, new books and things waiting hopefully for attention.
One of the reasons I still prefer real newspapers to the online variety is the serendipity of reading while (not) tidying up. So it was yesterday evening in my desultory attempt to look as if I might be cleaning up the sofa I got side tracked into reading Michael Billington's interview with Peter Brook. I found Brook's idea about a pared down Magic Flute which concentrates on the music, on character, story and situation rather wonderful. Even if I never get to see it, just reading about it inspired me to think about opera and also my own "performance art" liturgy in new ways.
However, what moved me and offered me some sense of meaning about my life was Brook saying this at the end of the article when asked about his legacy:

"What does touch me is when people come up to me in the street, as they sometimes do since they mistakenly think I've retired, and talk about some experience that has remained with them. That for me is the only real legacy: the idea that one has left a lingering trace in people's memories. In the end, that's all a director can hope to do."
Brook's humility of ambition - coupled with brilliant artistic vision- impressed me and moved me because it challenged me - I suspect that I would hope to leave rather more than a trace and yet I also know that at the end of my life probably the most I shall be able to say about my achievements is that I will have managed to offer grieving families meaningful funerals and joyful couples happy weddings. Fragmentary traces.
So I began pondering "impact" - our desire, my desire, to "make a difference" to "have a legacy" - and I thought about two women working in development I interviewed earlier this year. They were working according to the "do no harm" development principles - make a positive difference but don't just try to have impact for the sake of being seen to do something. "Do no harm" takes longer but tends to become the work of the people, of whole communities much more, and as a result of that it tends to be much more sustainable. In terms of providing rural communities with water say, that has to be a good thing. I have no idea whether it can be applied say to mission or ecumenism or church life but I like its conscious humility and desire to work with rather than dominate and impose. Yet I know how much, like Psalmist in Psalm 90, I am motivated by wanting my work to have a lasting result (Donne à nos travaux un résultat durable).
Meanwhile a further fragment of a lingering trace is Andrei Makine's latest book, (the entrance to my new place of work is framed by bookshops, this is not good and I succombed when visiting Paris this week) which beautifully evokes how even in a life of suffering brief eternal loves can be transformative.
So rather than having impact I shall hope to linger and to seek to be ambitious with my vision rahter than with my impact. Yet as I reflect on my carbon footprint and on the plastic bottles I will have used in my lifetime I shall also have to face up to the fact that be it impact or lingering, it will sadly not have been as sustainable or without harm as I might aspire to. So I shall focus on the hope of transformative eternal love.

The story of water deprivation is linked to so many other oppressions

At worship this morning Maike Gorsboth and Christine Housel preached a powerful and moving dialogue sermon, as we marked the international day for the elimination of racial discrimination and world water day.

As we ponder the present day and biblical stories, we cry out with the prophets for justice, and for mercy. The earth and the people are violated. Communities and nations are in conflict. Commerce and power dominate. We seek repentance. We honour the prophets among us. We seek to be and are a part of the solution. We open ourselves to the ways of peace, and we ask God to lead us to become ever-better peacemakers and prophets.
The liturgy also had both poignant and moving moments. Before the prayer of confession a series of people stood up from their places and said phrases like these:

In the country with the world's highest incidence of rape, statistics indicate that a girl born today has only a one in three chance of finishing school, and a one in two chance of being raped.

Those defending justice and human rights often become victims of death threats, assaults, criminalization and murder.

Every year, millions die from poverty – from malnutrition, from the lack of safe water and sanitation, from the lack of medical treatment and health care.
We also fed our prayers on cards in different languages on blue coloured cards through the congregation like a bucket chain to the reader at the front. This way of praying was inspired by one of the arpilleras in our stitching peace exhibition showing a bucket chain. At the end of the service we shared the peace and in the lobby afterwards all shared a drink of water rather than the more traditional post service coffee.

An excellent start to the week.

You can read more about the Ecumenical Water Network's Seven Weeks for Water here. And abotu the World Student Christian Federation's Water Justice campaign here.

And don't forget to read the sermon and the liturgy - where you can also see a picutre of the arpillera.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

News from Ferney Voltaire centre of the universe - second theatre opens!

Last week Ferney voltaire second theatre re-opened its doors. The Théatre du Châtelard which is about 200 metres from our front door has been completely renovated and rebuilt.
Ferney also has another small theatre "La Comédie" which also has a lively programme. It's pretty amazing to live in a small town (I tend to think of it as a village really) whichmanages to keep two theatres going.
The Châtelard opens with a play by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing which has never played in France before called Les Juifs. Our neighbour Hervé Loichmol is the artistic director of the Châtelard, his partner Anne Durand is one of the actors. So we are hoping to get tickets and walk along the road before the week is out! This is what Hervé says about why he chose this play:

C'est une pièce étonnante à plusieurs titres. Pour la première fois, elle critique ouvertement l'antijudaïsme chrétien, c'est-à-dire l'hostilité envers le judaïsme en tant que religion. C'est aussi la première oeuvre montrant un juif sous un angle positif. L'étonnement réside aussi dans la jeunesse de l'auteur. Lessing a 20 ans quand il écrit cette pièce et il n'est pas juif. Il y a chez lui une conscience politique incroyable.
You can find out more about the upcoming programme at the Châtleard here and to be fair about the Comédie here.

Stitching Peace - while war rages ...

GrasYesterday afternoon I took the catechism group around the Stitching Peace exhibition. I've shown groups of children and adults around the exhibtion during the four weeks it has been in the Ecumenical Centre chapel. It's been a really good and meaningful experience.
Tomorrow we take the exhibition down, pack it up and it will travel back to Northern Ireland and rest before transferring to Jamaica in May when it will be at the core of the International Ecumenical Peace Convication.
Each of the pieces in the exhibtions tells a story of ways individuals and groups can build non-violent and committed societies based on values like solidarity and respect. These are stories born of pain, anger and often deep poverty and oppression. Powerfully though the pieces selected show that even in such situations it is possible to choose to stitch peace.
Showing the young people and some of their parents the chapel yesterday we also looked for a while at the icon of the stoning of St Stephen which the WCC received at the outset of the Decade to Overcome Violence. And again, as I do week in week out with visitors groups, I asked them to consider the physical stones and violence we may each be capable of doing with our hands - the icon shows two people throwing large stones down on St Stephen. And the violence we do with our words - the icon shows Saul (later to become St Paul) looking on, his words have encouraged the violence which makes St Stephen a martyr.
This morning I woke to the news of missile attacks on Libya ... is this where my prayers for the people of Libya lead? Unbearable thought. Is this what is really needed? Will it work - what is hoped for from this?
Pictures of fighter jets and macho military paraphernalia have replaced pictures of the devastation in Japan. These bombs and swift response units make us feel we are powerful. The reality of war is deeply sickening. And of course part of that reality is Ghadaffi having already chopped off water and electricity supplies to whole cities - an act of war as deadly as any missile.
I know myself well enough to know that I am not a true pacifist, but I do not believe in the ease of war nor in retributive violence, (read a reflection from Phil Wood on that). Of course it is hard to weigh up the responsibility to act and defend the innocent against the resort to war, but do we tend towards military solutions more easily simply because the armaments are available to us?

I know that tomorrow as we take down the fragile textiles I know that shall be thinking about how terribly tiny and insignificant, how poverty stricken yet beautiful and creative our efforts at stitching peace are. One missile probably costs more than the whole budget for the peace convocation in Jamaica. When the the women under Pinochet took their flour bags and started stitching their stories and pain in simple powerful ways, they showed that despite horrific oppression and poverty, the human spirit will find a way to express anger, pain and the desire for justice. That same human spirit will also find a way in the depths of distress to dance, laugh, celebrate and make music. To stitch peace we need also to push those values to the fore.
I shall try to go on believing in the small "signs of the kingdom" type of peace building, which relies on flawed, hurting and wonderful human beings telling their stories with creativity. I'm still enough of an idealist to think that "retributive reconciliation" can begin with needle and thread much more effectively than with exhorbitantly priced precision armaments.

And I should add that some of these thoughts are also triggered by conversations with one of the teenage boys about his future plans. He really wants to become a fighter pilot. And it is of course a really great career. Needle and thread or the creative arts don't quite offer the same attractive adrenaline highs ... do I want to package Christ's gospel of the Beatitudes in a similarly attractive way - might I even have the capacity to do that, to understand contemporary culture well enough to be able to do that?

Maike's birthday


Last night we had a wonderful evening with great friends at the fabulous Chanteclair which just happens to be opposite where we live ...

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Off the wall images from Paris and St Denis


On Thursday and Friday we were in Paris and also in St Denis, where we may end up living. It's a fascinating and very lively city in its own right and is home to the Basilica where the kings of France were crowned and buried. I had a chance to meet up with some of my future colleagues and we had a meal with my brother.
Anyway, the collage gives you a bit of a taste of where we've been.

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Wednesday, 16 March 2011

It is pointless yet it is essential - it is all we can do - we prayed

At lunchtime today we did it.
There was some chatter as we gathered in the chapel and then the gong began to sound and our conversation dimmed.
We came together to pray and it became quiet.
We read and prayed terrible words from the book of Lamentations and from Jonah and Psalm 46 and Mark's gospel.
And yet there was still numbness, the images and scale of the devastation haunt us, too much to comprehend, too much to bear ... are we supposed to make sense of this?
And so we offer words and silence, we sing and light small candles ... and we know it is not enough, how could it ever be.
As the candles had been lit and many were leaving as the gong finished sounding at the end, a colleague remained standing and began singing his prayer aloud in Greek. I only really understood the word "tsunami" in what he sang and yet his prayer was deeply meaningful and profoundly moving to me. Often when I pray in my own language I will understand less than than even one word.
So we left the chapel, the uncomfortable lamentations and sense of powerlessness, and we moved back to our conversations, concerns and work
Of course it is pointless to pray. Of course it is essential to pray.
Together we offer our powerlessness in words and silence and trust that God in all his vulnerability may hear such prayers as ours.

Prayers for the Peoples

Wednesday 16 March 2011,

Remembering Japan, Libya, Bahrain and the world

The gong sounds

From Psalm 130

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.

Lord, hear my voice: Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.

Silence

How lonely sits the city

that once was full of people!

How like a widow she has become,

she that was great among the nations!

She that was a princess among the provinces

has become a vassal. (Lamentations 1:1)

Song: 156 “O Lord, hear my prayer”

Blessed is our God now and for ever and unto the ages of ages.

Amen

A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping.

Rachel is weeping for her children;

she refuses to be comforted for her children,

because they are no more. (Jer 31:15)

Silence

For these things I weep;

my eyes flow with tears;

for a comforter is far from me,

one to revive my courage;

my children are desolate,

for the enemy has prevailed. (Lamentations 1:16)

Song: 156 “Gott, hör mein Gebet”

Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God, saying,

I called to the Lord out of my distress and he answered me;

out of the belly of destruction I cried, and you heard my voice.

You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me;

all your waves and your billows passed over me.

Then I said, I am driven away from your sight!

The waters closed in over me; the deep surrounded me;

weeds were wrapped around my head at the roots of the mountains.

I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever;

yet you brought me up from the Pit, O Lord my God.

As my life was ebbing away, I remembered the Lord,

and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple.

Those who worship vain idols forsake their true loyalty.

But I will bring my prayers before you in thanksgiving:

Deliverance belongs to the Lord.

(From Jonah 2)

Silence

My eyes are spent with weeping;

my stomach churns;

my bile is poured out on the ground

because of the destruction of my people,

because infants and babes faint

in the streets of the city. (Lamentations 2:11)

Song: 156 “Entends ma prière”

Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately,

“Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign?”

“Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’

For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom;

There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines.

This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

"But about that day and hour, no one knows,

neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

"Beware. Keep alert. For you do not know when the time will come."

(From Mark 13: 3-4,6,8,32-33)

Remember this, O Lord,

Remember this, O Lord,

Do not let the downtrodden be put to shame.

Do not let the downtrodden be put to shame.

Rise up, O God.

Rise up, O God.

Silence

They cry to their mothers,

“Where is bread and wine?”

as they faint like the wounded

in the streets of the city,

as their life is poured out

on their mothers’ bosom.

(Lamentations 2:12)

Sing: 156 “O Lord, hear my prayer”

Prayers for people affected by the Japanese tragedy

Lord God of mercy and compassion:

Hear our prayer of incomprehension and confession.

The crust of your fragile world needs to split and shift if it is to last from generation to generation.

We confess we find disaster hard to understand and accept.

Immense waves sweep towns to dust and rubble.

We confess that the human tragedy is hard for us to bear.

Nuclear pollution threatens.

We confess our thoughtless use of energy.

Silence

Lord God of mercy and compassion:

Hear our prayer of incomprehension and confession.

Hear us, O Lord, as we join in prayer for all those caught up in the past week’s events in Japan.

Grant them the time and energy to mourn...

Grant them healing...

Grant them hope...

Grant them the courage to rebuild their lives...

Grant them, and us, the determination to reach out to one another in love.

Prayers for the people of Libya, Bahrain and all regions of the earth

Lord God of mercy and compassion:

Hear our prayer of incomprehension and confession.

Millions of people search and toil for the barest minimum to survive.

We confess that it is easier to think that we are not part of the solution.

Violence is chosen when people demand change and democracy.

We confess that our desire for peace is not matched by our peacemaking.

Silence

We pray for all those caught up in the turmoil of North Africa and the Middle East.

May your will be done on earth, O Lord, and your kingdom come in righteousness...

May justice and peace be revealed in the daily lives of nations and peoples...

And may the voice of the Prince of Peace be heard in every land.

Prayers for the enemy (from the Eastern Orthodox tradition)

O Christ, Our God, who prayed for those who crucified You,

and asked us, your servants, to pray for our enemies;

forgive those who hate and oppress us and, through Your Grace and love for humanity,

change their lives from doing wrong and wickedness

to love for their neighbours and life filled with goodness:

that none of them may perish because of us but rather they and we together

be saved through penitence; we pray You, Lord, hear us and have mercy.

Silence

We are longing for the day when the prophecy of Micah will come true, when "they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks, nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore."

The Lord’s Prayer (in our various languages)

Affirmation

The cross is the way of the lost.

The cross is the staff of the lame.

The cross is the guide of the blind.

The cross is the strength of the weak.

The cross is the hope of the hopeless.

The cross is the freedom of the slaves.

The cross is the water of the seeds.

The cross is the consolation of the bonded labourers.

The cross is the source of those who seek water.

The cross is the cloth of the naked.

The cross is the healing of the broken.

The cross is the peace of the church.

(St. Yared, Ethiopia)

The gong sounds

You are invited to leave the chapel in silence…


Photos by Nikos Kosmidis

And this is the prayer that was sung in Greek
My singing was a part of the Trisagion Prayers for the Departed we offer in the Orthodox Tradition in such occasions. I just felt the need to say some words of prayer for their souls. Here is the English translation of what you heard:
“Among the spirits of the righteous made perfect, give rest, O Savior, to the soul of Your servants. Preserve them in a life of blessedness which is from You, O Lover of mankind.
Within Your peace, O Lord, where all Your saints repose, give rest also to the souls of Your servants, for You alone are immortal.
Glory to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. You are our God who descended into Hades and loosened the bonds of those who were in chains. Grant rest also, O Savior, to the souls of Your servants.”


Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Revenge, justice and nature bites back ...

I believe in justice and in judgement, I believe in righteousness.
I also believe in mercy and love and care and gentleness.
I do not however believe in retribution. Oh yes of course I do sometimes feel Schadenfreude - and rather enjoy it - but somehow deep down "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" leaves a world unable to see or to eat.

Many moons ago someone I did not much like experienced a difficult personal crisis. I often think about that event when I hear or read the phrase "When bad things happen to good people". I had not particularly wished that individual well and I felt very challenged by what happened to them. So how do we cope, pray, react when bad things happen to bad people, or just to people we do not much like?

Perhaps in the end it is just about trying to follow the line set by Desmond Tutu that we are all "Made for Goodness" - we need to believe this about others but we also need to believe it about ourselves. We too are made for goodness.

The earthquake and ensuing Tsunami in Japan are almost beyond our ability to find a framework for understanding. I do not think that it is nature's revenge to create nuclear pollution - neither nature nor God chose to build nuclear power plants in the country that is one of the most earthquake prone in the world. "Rational" scientists and politicians doubtless chose to do that The "rational" electorate no doubt wanted relatively cheap and "clean" electricity.
I cannot be pleased at the prospect of nuclear pollution. If it serves perhaps as a wake up call (did Chernobyl?) then I wonder for quite how long it may be effective.

At the moment the people of Japan need not theories of retribution but clear solidarity and practical compassion. Later, when there is time for calmer analysis, I would hope that the (sometimes) corrupt way that decision-making and political power operated might also give way to forms which involve all the people much more. In the aftermath of disaster it is not only the physical that needs to be rebuilt, political cultures and structures also need to be rebuilt. In the process it is good to be guided by Tutu's phrase and believe that all of us are made for goodness. Perhaps though it's also a good idea to also keep the phrase from Matthew's gospel in mind , to "be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves".

Bread not stone, stone not bread ... the Bible speaks to itself and challenges us

Yesterday morning Peter Prove preached a thought provoking sermon. I suggested two texts from Matthew's gospel as we were preparing the service - Christ's first temptation in Matthew 4 to turn stone into bread and then the passage later in Matthew 7 where Christ says which of you would give your child a stone when asked for bread?
What fascinated me about the way that Peter reflected on these passages is how brilliantly the Bible speaks to itself, and how challenging it is to have as inspiration a book of life which says seemingly contradictory things. What was particularly strange for me is that I had chosen these passages because they seemed to me to be part of the same continuum and ongoing discussion. I had never really thought about the passages as opposing one another. In his sermon Peter linked the two sayings:

In the first reading, Jesus – famished after 40 days and 40 nights of fasting – is tempted by the devil: "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." But even in the extremity of his physical hunger, Jesus rebuffs this temptation with the words from Scripture: “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." But of course Jesus’ point is not – and cannot be – that food is not necessary.
His words in the second reading strike a different note. “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
Bread and fish. Not stones or snakes…
The Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance ,which Peter is director of, is running a Lenten campaign on food justice as part of its Fast for Life and Food for Life campaigns. I was struck by the idea about where is it in our world today, in our individual lives that we are trying to turn stones into bread? Treating people and the earth in a way that does not listen to God's word of life, that does not proceed from God's lips? Yesterday morning Peter posed the question like this:
In what ways are we today tempted to unlearn this lesson, and to try to turn stones into bread? Could it be that our artificial fertilizers, nutritional supplements, genetically-modified organisms and other technological fixes all in some way represent our prideful response to the tempter’s ruse? And that in our headlong rush towards agrofuel at the expense of food production, we are succumbing to the opposite but equal temptation – to turn bread into stone?
Sixteen years ago I preached with a view in the Temple in Divonne les Bains. I turned up with a stone in my hand to begin my sermon (on the woman taken in adultery ...), later I placed the stone on communion table next to the bread and wine. "Bread not stone" has long, long been one of my favourite refrains - even before I had read Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza - yet thinking once more about these texts makes me wonder whether my focus on bread not stone made me less able to see where sometimes the most life-giving thing is to trust in the word rather than break your teeth on stone.
I'll post a link to Peter's sermon once it goes online, you can find EAA's daily devotions for Lent here, and for now I'll end with his words:
In this Lenten season, what fast shall we choose? And what shall we offer the hungry
children: bread, or stones?

Monday, 14 March 2011

Some news of later this year ...

Some people are friends on facebook, some folk read my blog, others follow on twitter, some folk are well, just friends.
Anyway, incase you didn't already know, here is the news. Later this year the stranzblog will be moving to Paris. Not until October and it looks as if there will be quite a lot of traffic between Ferney Voltaire and a northern Paris suburb in the first instance.
I have been appointed the ecumenical officer of the French Protestant Federation, in the first instance for 2 years as I work on projects around inter-religious dialogue and intercultural ministry with the 20 plus member churches who are part of the Federation. I am both very happy and quite terrified but as you can imagine I have lots of crazy ideas about how to go about the job as well.
In the meantime however I am looking forward to the next six months before leaving Geneva. To the Peace Convocation in Jamaica, the Kirchentag in Dresden and much else besides. Lots to do and then at some point I suppose there will be quite a bit of packing, though there again perhaps not so much ... Dr B also has a new job ... in Geneva. People smile when I tell them this and say "Oh that's very modern to do marriage that commuting way these days". As we head towards our 20th anniversary I realise that commuting was where we started out, between London, Brussels, Strasbourg and Dunkerque. Things do come full circle.

Bitter sweet with Seven Weeks for Water

This week's Seven Weeks for Water has just been posted and includes a trailer from the documentary film "Sweet Crude" by Sandy Cioffi. The focus is water and oil, specifically in relation to the Niger Delta.

Rev. Canon Dr. Ezekiel Olusegun Babatunde, from Immanuel College of Theology and director of the Institute of Church and Society of the Christian Council of Nigeria, has written this week's biblical reflection on Transforming the bitter water waters of Marah. Remembering the Exodus story of Moses making the bitter water sweet, Babatunde looks at the desperate need for transformation in the Niger Delta where oil spills are common place and water is turned bitter with pollution. Here's a taster:
Today, in the Niger Delta area people are also thirsty, searching for clean water in order to survive, similar to the Israelites in Exodus. Their situation is “bitter” – despite an abundance of water around them, they have no water to drink. Searching for clean and drinkable water is a herculean task particularly for women and children who often walk more than three kilometers to get water for their families. Like many other blessed nations situated in sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria has abundant natural resources, particularly oil, which has made it attractive to multinationals scrambling for its resources. Three decades of oil exploitation have caused ecological devastation in the region. Water provided by various rivers in the area has been polluted, making it undrinkable. ... The Niger delta seems to be indeed a place of bitterness. Yet its inhabitants have not lost their hope and faith. ... The Nigerian people need such leaders, leaders who can liberate them, who can bring justice to the innocent men, women and children who have been mistreated, and to those to whom access to good drinkable water and a good life have been denied. Leaders who will, like Moses, not only purify water but heal the people and restore their trust.
You can find further background to the situation in the Niger Delta here and an article on the dilemma of restorative justice in that situation.
Meanwhile to be part of transforming bitterness to sweetness you can join the oil fast, or sign Operation Noah’s oil resolution asking for the world’s biggest oil producers Royal Dutch Shell and British Petroleum to be removed from the Stoxx Europe Christian Index. You can also pray for "Just Water" and use the EWN-WSCF prayer resource “Just Water” for the Universal Day of Prayer for Students (21 March) and World Water Day (22 March) to pray for justice and peace for all people.It's just one week away.

Photo: Daniel Zimmel


Sunday, 13 March 2011

Pondering earthquakes and seismic change with Julian of Norwich ...

I have just finished putting together a liturgy for common prayer tomorrow morning - it is Lent, we will be praying for the people of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, focusing on the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance's Fast for Life campaign. We will of course also be praying for the people of Japan. What to say?
I have framed what I have put together tomorrow with verses from Psalm 46 and Psalm 90

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumults.
I learnt today that the quake has shaken the earth slightly off its axis, moved Japan by a couple of metres. Enormous seismic change. I heard about the psychological support and counselling being prepared and offered to people caught up in this desperate trauma and tragedy. And I watched yet more pictures of the destruction and heard the worrying reports of a second nuclear power plant at risk ...
Psalm 90 says: "For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night."
If there were no earthquakes, no volcanoes our fragile small plant would not have survived even this far - nor would it have been such a green and fruitful planet. What seems merely like brutal meaningless arbitrary tragedy is perhaps rather more part of our beautiful planet's correction mechanisms. A big earthquake now or the whole earth exploding long term? Not much of a choice. Yet this shifting and quaking in the earth's crust is hard for humans to comprehend or accept. How can counselling, psychoanalysis or therapy offer credible frameworks for massive change on this scale? In the end though each of us is just one, limited human life trying to make sense, trying to make our way through, trying to show solidarity, to understand. So hard for us to have the long view, to think of the needs of our planet in 10,000 or a million years ... by then we will be less than dust.
And yet alongside the dust motif of Psalm 90 I want also to hold out the promise of Isaiah 43
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine ...
Because you are precious in my sight, and honoured, and I love you.
We are nothing but dust and faded grass, and yet we a very deeply not nothing, but intimitely loved and named by God.

As I pondered the fragile restless crust of the earth, the terrible tragedy of huge irrevocable change, I thought about Julian of Norwich and her visions and understanding. Tonight, as often, I returned to her vision of God holding "a tiny thing", all that has been created, like a hazlenut in his hand. In the face of trauma and pain, offering love is perhaps the only viable and sustainable option. So somehow I hold on to faith, almost wordlessly.
At the same time, our Lord showed me in a spiritual manner, how intimately he loves us. I saw that he is everything that is good and supports us. He clothes us in his love, envelops us and embraces us. He wraps us round in his tender love and he will never abandon us. As I understand it, he is everything that is good. He also showed me a tiny thing lying in the palm of my hand, the size of a hazelnut. I looked at this with the eye of my soul and thought, "What is this?" And is this is the answer that came to me. "It is all that is made" I was amazed that it managed to survive. It was so small that I thought it might disintegrate. And in my mind I heard this answer, "It lives on and will live on because God loves it." So everything owes its existence to the love of God. The first is God made it; the second is God loves it; and the third is God preserves it.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Holy irritant or fresh water?

Really please to see that bloggers like "Holy Irritant" have got inspired by this year's Seven Weeks for Water on Water, Conflict and Just Peace. Of course I think that Holy Irritant is a great name for a blog. Tony Robertson whose blog it is writes:

Water was one of life's gifts we took for granted.
A lifetime of travel has made me more aware of the fragile gift of water. I have seen the destruction of the OK Tedi River system in PNG. I have lived in Queensland with the experience of drought and most recently the impact of flooding.
Meanwhile although we have been enjoying the extraordinarily mild and clear late winter and early spring weather around Geneva of late, news here is of an exceptionally dry winter and of water tables only one quarter full as we begin spring and summer.

Fast for Life?

Anyone looking at my ever expanding wasteline (I cannot believe I just typed that like that rather than like this: waistline: ed) hardly needs to be told that I am not very talented at fasting.
Today is Ash Wednesday, a holy day in the western Christian calendar, Lent begins, absitinence, fasting, giving things up, praying more, being better, discipline ... hmm the pressure mounts, I think I may be developing a spiritual overload headache induced by guilt.

The Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance launched its Fast for Life campaign today. Those of us who gathered in the chapel at the ecumenical centre at midday donated the cost of lunch to the local Salvation Army, as a small contribution to feeding Geneva's poorest.

Given my own complex, difficult and sinful relationship with food, I find this time of the Christian year particularly challenging spiritually. Will I ever get past my guilt, accept something like forgiveness and move towards true transformation? Notice how even here I only evoke rather than really address the issue. Perhaps food is an issue I should preach a sermon about in order to be more honest about the meaning of food and its weight in my life and spirituality ... as well as on my hips! Still not sure what text I would choose for such a sermon, after all the Bible is full of stories of food, feasting and fasting let me know if you have an idea.
Such thoughts bring my rather neatly to the EAA sermon competition on food for life - there're still a couple of weeks left to submit your sermons, closing date March 30!
So what have you got to say about Food for life, what do you think God might have to say about food for life?

And while you're thinking about that here are some more a
ction ideas from the EAA website

Join by taking either individual or collective action:
i) Fast from food as a symbolic gesture in solidarity with people living with hunger.
ii) Fast from fossil fuels by parking your car and walk, ride a bike, or take public transport to help reduce greenhouse gases.
iii) Fast from over-consumption by leaving your wallet at home and commit to ‘buy nothing ‘on 9 March.
iv) Organize a worship service on Ash Wednesday to reflect on the inequalities that allow for hunger and over-consumption in this world.
v) Share your resources on food consumption, reflections and prayers on Facebook on the Food for Life Campaign – Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance page
vi) Sign a letter to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in support of the land and water rights of vulnerable communities

Drink a toast to yourself and to all the other women surrounding you

International Women's Day was busy and fun around the ecumenical centre. Elaine Neuenfeldt led morning prayers and told us the story of the women from a village in Mauritania, several of them grandmothers, who trained to become solar engineers. It is a wonderful story of education and empowerment. Why train women rather than men? Because the women will remain in the communities and train others, meaning that the knowledge and transformation are shared and passed on from one generation to the next. To change the village educate a girl or a grandmother. Men would be more likely to leave the village and try to earn money with the new found knowledge.

Then at midday a great impromptu library lunch was held with Father Daniel Groody from Notre Dame University, his theme was migration as a theological method - I'll come back to some of the reflections and discussion around the observations he shared in a later post. For now suffice us to say that it made for a really invigorating lunchbreak with good theological and intellectual stimulation.

In the late afternoon and early evening the World YWCA hosted a wonderful laid back and welcoming reception to celebrate the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day. It was the first time this year that I went out in the afternoon without my coat on, the sun was shining, the spring flowers covered the grass in front of the World YWCA building in a profusion of pink and it was quite simply a glorious sunny time. Here was an opportunity to network, to chat, to laugh, all presided over with enormous grace, good humour and aplomb by Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda the YW's general secretary. At one stage she got us to go around the room and simply say our names and one word which describes us - the words were many and the one chosen most often (by myself and by Nyaradzayi as well!) was "passion". A good word with which to enter Lent!
Nyaradzayi also got us to toast ourselves, to affirm ourselves as unique women and to toast the women on either side of us. It was time out, time to celebrate women's achievements over the past 100 years, time to look forward to what still needs to be done. It was also time to share stories of our work and lives- from the recent UN Status of Women meeting, to receive gentle greetings from around the world "this is my first international women's day outside my own country", to affirm inter-generational learning, to smile and share news and gossip. It was WONDERFUL!
And then I spent the evening with three very beautiful, very intelligent, very lovely female friends and got home not too long after midnight ...

Monday, 7 March 2011

Remembering the Bible in stolen early morning time

All last week at morning prayer we remembered the Bible. From Tuesday to Friday we had no Bible reading but rather we worked with the stories of the Bible that we actually already know in our hearts and heads, written with the words of our memories, with our feelings and more besides.

After we had done a bit of remembering we went off and looked at one or other of the wonderful textiles hanging in the chapel as part of our Stitching Peace exhibition.
We began with the calming of the storm and Christ walking on the water, we ended with the woman who annointed Jesus with perfume "In memory of her". We also remembered the 10 plagues of Israel and the healing of the woman bent double.

It was interesting that we never really did get around to trying to list the 10 plagues but instead we got "side-tracked" by one person saying, "the thing that always struck me was Pharaoh's stubborness". We were looking at an "arpillera" made at the time of the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile and very present in our minds were the images and news from Libya. The plagues the people suffer as the result of one person's intransigence - how much time does it take to understand, what kind of macho posturing is this that takes no account of the human cost of confrontation?

It was wonderful to remember the Bible, it felt like stolen time somehow - early in the morning subversive prayer. It was fun and good and powerful - and interestingly days later now I can still remember all of the readings. If we had read the passages I suspect that might not be the case.

Adamah - the land we come from

The first biblical reflection on Seven Weeks for Water this year comes from Ani Ghazaryan who has been working with the WCC as an intern for the past year. Ani is working on a doctorate in biblical studies at the University of Lausanne but has been working with the climate and economic justice teams at the WCC. She reflects on the link between land and water, water and justice, land and justice.
At the same time the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance has also made a great campaigning contribution to Seven Weeks this year and is encouraging people to sign a letter to the food and Agricutlure Organization (FAO) in support of the food and water rights of vulnerable populations. So do sign the letter and also look at the resources EAA are putting together as part of their fast for life campaign.
Sign up here to get the Seven Weeks for Water updates.

Meanwhile here's a taste of Ani's reflection:

Despite the deep relationship of humankind to the earth, today, humankind overexploits the land and water for our own interests, forgetting that we were called to take care of the Earth, God’s creation. Our greediness is such that we covet ever more without thinking about the Earth and the needs of vulnerable people.

The Tenth commandment of God commends us to not covet our neighbour’s property (Exodus 20:17). However, today many companies and governments invest in land resources for large-scale industrial agriculture in very poor countries – in a way which often affects the livelihoods of local communities, such as peasant farmers, pastoralists, or Indigenous Peoples. For these people the link to the land, including its rivers, lakes, and springs, is strong and vital.

How can we ignore the fact that millions of people are already suffering and dying because of the greediness of others? How should we address issues which are linked to the unjust sharing of land and water, such as land and water “grabbing”? How is it possible to come from the land, to be adamah and then to become a land grabber? To deprive people of the land from which they come - and to which we all will return eventually?

Sunday, 6 March 2011

In praise of Mariella Frostrup freshening up the feminist agenda

Sometimes I get bored with calling myself a feminist. It seems sort of tired and old fashioned, yet it is very much part of who I am and what makes me tick. I admit I have sort of given up smiling every time I get comments such as "when are we going to have an international men's day". It is not in fashion to be seen to be championing women's issues or rights. It is interesting that people are quick to moan about what is termed "political correctness"and slow to be challeneged by the clear inequality so many women have to live with day in day out, year in year out, generation in generation out.
So today I felt energised and encouraged when reading Mariella Frostrup's excellent essay in the Observer.
Encouraged because this is a woman who puts the case erruditely and passionately:

In the western world the greatest triumph of spin in the last century is reflected in attitudes to feminism. Our struggle for emancipation and equality has been surreptitiously rewritten as a harpy bra-burning contest while elsewhere, in less affluent parts of the world, the response is altogether different. From Mozambique to Chad, South Africa and Liberia, Sierra Leone to Burkina Faso, feminism is the buzzword for a generation of women determined to change the course of the future for themselves and their families. At female gatherings all over sub-Saharan Africa you'll find enthusiasm and eager signatories to the cause.

...

I visited Internally Displaced Peoples camps in Chad where women refugees from Darfur were being raped daily when they ventured out to gather firewood so they could cook for their children. In Mozambique I cried frustrated tears as the 12 women farmers gathered around me raised their hands in shame and in unison to indicate that every one of them was a victim of domestic violence, a crime they were campaigning to have outlawed. And yes, this was only last year.

Frostup has also transformed her anger and sense of helplessness by founding GREAT the Gender Rights and Equality Action Trust
this is not a women's issue any longer; this is a human issue. There's a new wave of support sweeping from the developed to the developing world through women joining forces and rolling up their sleeves to lend a hand. Weareequals.org is a coalition of NGOs large and small, which have joined forces to pursue gender equality as a tool for economic empowerment. Countries where girls are educated and women play their part in government are places where peace reigns and economies begin to flourish, and women are more interested in ending wars than starting them – there are endless statistics that prove this to be the reality.
Some of the statistics in Frostrup's article about the reality of women's lives globally even shocked me. Frostrup was born in Norway but has spent much of her life in the UK and what I like abotu her essay is the way she links the global statistics to local statistics in the UK and other affluent countries:
Two-thirds of children denied school are girls, 64% of the world's illiterate adults are women, 41m girls are still denied a primary education, 75% of civilians killed in war are women and children, causing Major-General Patrick Cammaert, the former UN peacekeeping commander in the Democratic Republic of Congo, to declare in 2008: "It is now more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in modern conflict."
These are staggering statistics, and yet not powerful enough to make arguing for women's rights a respectable pursuit, rather than the aggressive histrionics of popular perception. International Women's Day, the one day a year when we're encouraged to celebrate what we've achieved and highlight what still needs to be done, conjures less bile than the F word, but also more apathy. When women are allowed to vote, work, choose when to have babies and dress in whatever fashion pleases them, what on earth do they need their own day for as well?
The fact that 700,000 people will experience domestic violence in the UK, and 90% of them are white British females, that there are sex slaves imported daily to this country who live lives of abject terror, that equal pay is still not a reality nearly four decades after the act enshrining it was passed, that the conviction rate in rape cases still hovers around 6.5%, that only 12% of the UK's boardroom seats (as compared to Norway's 32%) are occupied by women, are just a small smattering of reasons why women's rights should remain a priority
So on March 8 this year, which will mark the 100th anniversary of international women's day, how will you be celebrating women's achievements? How will you be contributing to helping women and men lift themselves out of violence, poverty and powerlessness? Time to feel encouraged to feel that we can make a difference. Thank you Mariella for finding words, passion and commitment. Thank you for making me feel less tired and old fashioned when I say I'm a feminist and for renewing my energy, just what I needed to start this week which I shall enjoy celebrating with my sisters.