Tuesday, 28 June 2011

It's all about a Code of ConductConversion

Four years ago I started blogging. I began to write online at the second meeting of the group working on a code to conversion, you can read what I wrote over those days as I was discovering the medium of blogging here. Rather frightening that I wrote 62 posts in less than a month. I must try and get back some of that dedication. I realised taht "conversion is part of the sotry of my family and not something I had thought about a great deal before attending that meeting.
It was a fascinating and stimulating encounter in the glorious city of Toulouse. So I'm am really delighted that tomorrow Geoff Tunnicliffe of the World Evangelical Alliance and Cardinal Tauran the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Intereligious Dialogue will join with the WCC's Olav Fykse Tveit to launch the code of conduct on conversion, at the World Council's offices in Geneva.

Like back in Toulouse I shall be trying to interpret proceedings into French tomorrow. I may also try to tweet a bit on the oikoumene twitter feed. You'll be able to read the Code of Conduct in full tomorrow afternoon.

Monday, 20 June 2011

If you bomb a place, think about how you clear up the armaments afterwards - Photos from Libya

There was a report today on the radio about how some of the construction work in Germany is being held up because of old bombs and munitions from the second world war. Part of the pornographic lie of war is that it is a quick, "surgical" solution - bomb them, get in, get out, mission over. It's such a lie. Not far from where we used to live in Dunkerque are the battlefields of the First World War. Still today farmers turn up spent and unspent cartridges and munitions as they plough the fields. The harvest of war can continue for many generations.
The picture here is from Misrata, Libya, taken just a couple of days ago by Paul Jeffrey for the ACTalliance. ACT have put together a powerful and moving photo gallery of the photos from Libya. Sandra Cox writes:
Macabre museums of unexploded shells, warheads and mines have ready sprung up around the city, and a deadly new hobby of arms tourism is in vogue. Children are using the battle zones as life-size playgrounds, where they risk losing limbs or their lives ...

The next job of ACT’s de-mining team is clearing Misrata's so-called museums of mass-destruction – ad hoc collections of live and dead munitions that have appeared in homes and businesses throughout the city in the last couple of weeks.
I've spent lots of time thinking about, reflecting on, writing about and celebrating "justpeace" in recent weeks and months. Pictures like these really bring the destruction of war home. How many millions went into buying these weapons? Is a similar amount being put into demining and reconstruction? More and more I understand Paul Oestreicher's call for an abolition of war.
In the meantime I wish my colleagues at ACT and all working with them the utmost safety as they carry out this risky and painstaking task, no surgical quick fix talk at this end of the story. The aftermath of war takes many lifetimes to clear up. We forget so easily.

You can also view the photos in the Independent.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Does the Church have a future? More to the point does my blogging or writing have a future?

The poetics of ecumenism
Fragments of ecumenism
Is it all over?
The still small voice of the world church
Diversity dialogue daring

All of those are titles for articles I didn't or haven't yet written. The theme I was given to write on was "The Future of the Church"- In the end I submitted something that was a bit less "edgey" and rather less philosophical than some of my original thoughts. I suppose I am a reformer rather than a revolutionary so perhaps I shouldn't expect too much in the way of radical thinking from myself. Anyway in the weeks ahead I am going to try and set myself the task of writing something on each of the titles I had as working ideas as I wrote the rather more staid article I finally submitted tonight. If and when that gets published online I'll also be sure to link to it.
In the meantime I thought it was time I tried to get back to the blog. Life has been rather more than busy in recent weeks, we also have a house guest which means that I spend more time talking and less time with the real life of the virtual world - it is terrible when real life takes you away from blogging!

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Fragments of a translated Pentecost sermon and the mother tongue of resurrection values

This morning in Ferney three young people finished their catechism, two asked for confirmation, one has decided to wait for a while before asking for baptism in a few years time. Each of them chose Bible passages and confessed their faith. It was a good service and the sun shone for drinks in the garden afterwards. Over 14 years ago I baptised the two young women who confirmed, both come from mixed confessional and national backgrounds. Together with Bernard Millet the pastor, we led the service and presided at communion. I preached, as this is probably my last year helping with KT. The sermon was in French of course, what follows is a rather imperfect version in English. Dr B's comment was - you have become very French using your hands alot! He was also gracious enough to say that he thought it was a good sermon. Perhaps I was using my hands more because today I preached from notes rather than from a text, so I was rather freer. Strange, although I've advised at least two people to do this themselves in recent months, I don't always feel at home with it myself - but perhaps I feel more at home with it in French than in English.

Joel2:28-29 (interestingly this is chapter 3 in the French Bibles!)
Then afterwards
I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

Galations 5:22-26
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.

Today its my feast day - and I know you all thought it was your party - Pentecost after all is the feast of translators and interpreters! Or perhaps it's actually the day the Holy Spirit makes all of us translators unemployed, after all that first Pentecost sermon was heard by everyone in their own language without any need for booths and headphones. So perhaps I should preach this morning en anglais, oder auf deutsch or maybe in a language like Arabic or Spanish that I don't speak at all and trust that everyone including me would be able to understand.
But I suspect we'd all be saying, along with our opening reading "what is the meaning of all this?"

Hmm what is the meaning of all this? What is Pentecost? It's a moving and turbulent story of hearts being touched with energy and understanding in the same way that those present were also touched by flames of fire. Pentecost is the grand finale of Easter and marks the end of the 50 days of Easter, the Spirit comes to breathe and embed the values of the resurrection into the lives of the first disciples, to breathe renewal and warmth and also to comfort and remind them of the true values of the resurrection.

One way of putting it is that the Spirit teaches them - and us - the mother tongue of gospel resurrection values. We read about those values in Paul's letter to the Galations : the gifts of the Spirit are love, peace, faithfulness, goodness, self control ...
When Christ rises from the dead he brings those values of the resurrection back with him from the grave - he doesn't come back saying to those who have tortured and crucified him "I'm going to get you". He doesn't seek to find those who did him such evil and nail them to a cross, nor does he ask his friends to do that for him. He comes across locked doors and says"peace be with you" he also says "receive the Holy Spirit".
These are the resurrection values the Spirit breathes into our lives, hoping that they will take root in us and guide our witness to the Risen One.
Two weeks ago I had just come back from Jamaica, despite rumours to the contrary I wasn't there on holiday, my employer the World Council of Churches organised an international meeting about peace, there were over a 1000 people from more than 100 countries for the meeting which had teh rather long name of International Ecumenical Peace Convocation - and you can imagine we certainly needed the interpretation booths there! People came together to discuss "just peace" - that might seem a strange sort of idea but even this week I've heard the idea of "just violence" being used by Hilary Clinton, saying violence against a "guilty" member of Al Quaida was justified. So much in our world justifies violence, makes it acceptable to us, yet Jesus' resurrection values are different - peace be with you he says.

If there was just one story to bring back from the Peace convocation it would be the story of the ordinary women in Liberia which we learned about through a film. These women helped through their concerted and long term prayer and action for peace to completely transform their country in Africa which had been suffering from a desperate and totally devastating civil war and dictatorship - men and boys caught up in war, forced to fight, women and children brutalised and raped. Their song was "We want peace now. Liberia is our home", their only arms white tshirts, creativity and tenacity. Praying across the Christian confessions, taking the prayer for peace to the Mosques and out onto the streets. Demonstrating next to the road where they knew the dictator would pass by, and not giving up.
The resurrection values of peace are not gained quickly or easily, but in place of a culture of totally acceptable violence these women, sang out and prayed out and went onto the streets for different values. We want peace now. Things are far from perfect in Liberia today, it remains a desperately poor country, but the absence of war has completely transformed the lives of all and left space for democracy and a different future. The women in Liberia dreamt and they acted upon their dream, the values of peace can become our mother tongue even in a war torn country.

The prophet Joel promises that young and old together will have dreams and visions, the servants and not just the ruling class. The Spirit is promised and shared out upon all. The resurrection values of peace, joy, faithfulness and love are not just for one generation but to be shared down the ages and across the ages. The Spirit of Pentecost pours into our hearts the mother tongue of understanding those values of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. It tries to put those other words on our lips, encourage our hands to other actions.
After Pentecost the church year moves into what it calls "ordinary" time - the Sundays often just have the word Pentecost and then a number after them. Today we can celebrate with the three of you who end your catechism this year, who confess your faith and ask for confirmation. You too will move into "ordinary" time - even though we will not see you at KT any longer we certainly hope to go on seeing you at church.
Somehow although it's not always easy to get out of bed on a Saturday morning we have managed to learn from one another and transmit some of these values of the resurrection to one another. It's not always easy across the generations to feel we speak the same language yet somehow across time Jesus' Holy Spirit has been whispering resurrection values in our hearts, teaching us to speak the language of peace and faithfulness, of joy and self control, of compassion and generosity.
On this last day of Easter let us celebrate our commitment to being transformed by the Spirit-given mother tongue of the values of the resurrection, and let's do that by saying together Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! but in another language, in Greek - as this is a tradtion which has come to us ecumenically from the Orthodox churches:
Christos Anesti
Alithos Anesti
Christos Anesti
Alithos Anesti
Christos Anesti
Alithos Anesti
May we all learn to speak the Gospel mother tongue of resurrection values - peace joy faithfulness compassion self control

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Ecumenism is moribund - oh no it isn't!

The WCC stand at the Kirchentag is underneath a large sign that says "Gelebte Ökumene" which means "lived out ecumenism" or perhaps even "living ecumenism". This leads to some rather "spöttisch" remarks by a few of the visitors to the stand "huh, ecumenism these days is all abaout an atmosphere of resignation" one person just said, pointing up to the sign, and this was even before I had a chance to say "hello". Just as well that with my Prussian ancestry I am used to such muscular discussion!
We ended up having a really good discussion about how blaming those at the top for a perceived current lack of progress in ecumenism is actually very unproductive, it means we don't take responsibility for trying to move things forwards ecumenically in our own contexts, sometimes it even means that we use the supposed lack of progress at the top as an excuse to stop thinking in ecumenical ways in local and national settings. Of course this doesn't mean we should be satisfied with lack of progress, and we do need to continue to put pressure on the international levels through bilateral and multilateral dialogue.
We got to have this conversation because we started doing something practical together, drawing hands on the cloth petition against small arms. And doing this simple and rather childish thing helped take the conversation onto a different level and perhaps calmed things down after the rather feisty beginning. As we drew and were joined by others the tenor of the conversation changed and so did it's content. We talked about lively local ecumenical projects and were even able to speak about how there is real hope that change may just be around the corner. So much is happening, saying that things are moribund may actually be cover for saying that we're finding it difficult to rediscover our enthusiasm and get motivated, and so we look for someone else to blame.
So it was good to have a muscular beginning to a conversation about ecumenism. We ended feeling more energised and hopeful about the future, perhaps also more able to see what is already going on and being planted ecumenically all around us.

Hands together to drop small arms and for a strong international treaty

Today is the first full day of the Kirchentag and we're working hard at the WCC and Bossey stand in the marketplace. This is almost a live blogpost from the stand. We've already had lots of fascinating conversations with people from all over Germany but also from around the world - visitors in the first two hours from Congo and Ethiopia, the Netherlands, Finland, Denmark and Britain - and those are just the ones I spoke with.
The activity that's working really well is collecting signatures in favour of a strong treaty for small weapons reduction. People are taking photos of the different ways they draw around their hands and sign the cloth petition, some of the hand outlines have been really well decorated. It's really good to have brought this to the Kirchentag from the International Ecumenical Peace convocation.
The Norwegian Churches have started the initiative, now we have to hope that some folk here at the Kirchentag will take the initiative up here in Germany and in the other countries people are from. Let's get things going from below so that pressure is put on those at the negotiating table in 2012 to make a strong treaty and reduce small arms use throughout the world.
Meanwhile I shall be faced with a technical challenge this evening, how to get thephotos off my new mobile phone and onto the facebook page. hmm...
and this is my first blog post with my new netbook and I can't find where teh phots are stored here either. Ah well by the end of the Kirchentag perhaps I'll have it all sorted out!

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Beginning with remembrance at the Kirchentag

Here is Dresden the rebuilt Frauenkirche, the church of our lady, stands as a positive symbol for the energy of people coming together to rebuild from the rubble of war even 60 years later.
I hadn´t realised until reading the Kirchentag general secretary´s contribution to today´s opening press conference that the Frauenkirche also has a less positive history. It is where the Arian paragraphs were voted through by the church of Saxony without any hesitation during the Third Reich. A shameful bit of Christian history.

Every Kirchentag always begins with a time of remembrance before the official opening events. Today this took place as a pilgrimage between Dresden´s Synagogue and the Frauenkirche. To inscribe real rather than false hope in society we have to remember the past with its terrors and all its betrayals, then we can celebrate the joy and success of the present with something approaching integrity and work for better futures.

When I next visit the Frauenkirche I shall also try to go on an inner pilgrimmage of remembrance, I am thankful for those who do not forget, even more thankful for those who forgive and grateful for all who carry hope forwards. I given thanks for places of reconciliation that do not have perfect histories but which do give us stories which challenge and make us think.

A heart for the Kirchentag in the East

Over the next three days here in Dresden people are hanging the bright green Kirchentag scarves around their necks and setting off to huge and much smaller events throguhout the city. It seems busier than ever at this Kirchentag and it's not just an impression. Today's press conference confirmed that there are more participants at this Kirchentag than at Bremen, Cologne or Hannover. Over 117,000 people have bought three day tickets and there are over 6,800 foreign visitors.Some are even saying that this is truly the first Kirchentag for the whole of Germany, for a united Germany.
Tonight Dresden has more than 250, 000 people in the streets for the evening of encounters. The atmosphere is great even if the weather is a little cool, at least it isn't raining though. I wonder whether it is the city itself which also attracts people, many have come on a cycling pilgrimage to get here. Set on the Elbe and as a symbol of post war reconciliation, it's a beautiful but also a very meaningful place.
Dreasden also refers to itself as being in heart of Europe. The Czech and Polish borders are not far away at all. So this Kirchentag is trying to particularly open up contacts with the churches and academies in central and eastern Europe. There's a great programme at the Three Kings Church organised jointly by the Prague ecumenical academy and Dresden's church house. It's wonderful to walk the streets and be in the hotel lobby and hear Czech, Hungarian and Polish being spoken. and tonight the city centre is pulsing first to the sound of the different opening services and now to concerts. Later tonight there will be an open air performance of a specially commissioned piece of music based on the Kirchentag theme and thousands of candles will be lit.
One of the other moving things about being in Dresden is seeing the memorials in the streets to the peaceful revolution in 1989.
The WCC general secretary has also spoken today of how churches in Dresden promoted reconciliation between former enemies after the Second World War. They also supported peace and justice groups during the time of communist rule and in doing so had helped advance the peaceful revolution of 1989 which brought down the Berlin Wall and eventually united East and West Germany.

Being here also reminds me that the East of Europe is important to me. It's good to be back. This may be my last Kirchentag for a while so it's good to be in what I like to think of as "my" part of Germany. Really pleased too that it is already such a success.