Tuesday, 26 July 2011

A shards of glass angel

Well I suppose it's not surprising given that most of it is made from transparent glass that this little angel I bought at the Nidaros Cathedral today is almost invisible. As is the way with cathedral bookshops the one here had more than its fair share of kitsch - I admit to being rather intrigued with the real feather angel wings in various sizes - just where would one use them? Hmmm ...
Then I saw these and read that they are made from shards of glass by people recovering from or living with substance abuse. People living with a great deal of inner and real pain make these from broken glass, something that speaks of pain and of shattered lives.
The angels are marketed through the Kirkens Bymission - whose slogan is: respect, justice, care (well I'm just making that translation up from the box in front of me) - you can visit the City Mission website in English here. They do very good work with some of the loneliest and least well off even in this well-balanced and caring society.
Of course the shattered glass angel spoke to me particularly because of the many shattered lives here in Norway following the tragic events of last Friday. Inside the cathedral a whole set of steps in front of one of the altars was full of candles - so much so one attendant was almost full time just dealing with the nightlights. In the centre of Trondheim flowers and more candles have been placed alongside photos of some of those killed. Almost every public statue has flowers laid on it and the bridges have roses woven into the railings.
As we received the news I stopped writing up our holiday, sometimes silence is the only form of words we can find. Though there are various posts in gestation, but they will come later. Today I bought a shards of glass angel, something made from broken bits. And somehow from all that I have seen I can sense that Norway will build from these shards. One of the young women survivors said "If one man can hate so much, imagine what we can do together with love". Perhaps one day, although I am already three times her age I shall know how to show such wise maturity.

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Discovery of tapestry as art

By chance today we eneded up at the museum for the decorative arts here in Trondheim. It's a very small place and not a very up to date museum but on the top floor are some brilliant works of art in textile format beautifully displayed. One whole room is given over to teh work of Hannah Ryggen who was oringinally a painter but on moving to Trondheim took up weaving and used this art form. I have never seen the wone form depct things in such a painterly way. Because they are fabric and already quite old they have to be displayed in reduced light but the colours are extraordianrily vibrant and the subject matter very engaged with the political. The fight against fascism and the horrors of war, the Abyssininian war and much more besides, including a work inspired by T.S. Eliott's words "Love is like a burning cloak woven by unknown hands. It envelops us like a fire. We cannot free ourselves. It is life - no life without it."
Most of the other works were by Synnove Anker Aurdal whose work simply made me smile with pleasure at her humour and use of colour. There are two lovely friezes one called "more bureaucrats" and another called "international conference" which spoke to my current life!
It was a delight and a surprise to discover new artists and almost new art forms as we were coming away from visiting the cathedral. Very energising. There was also some very beautiful artisitic glass at the museum so although we were not there long it really added something to our day.

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Monday, 25 July 2011

Doubting Thomas and the others - the statues in Copenhagen Cathedral

Dr B was as always most taken with the statue of doubting Thomas in Copenhagen's cathedral - see if you can work out which one that is. The thing I liked about the cathedral was that in the pews forwards of the pulpit you had extra seats so you could change sides to face the preacher- Not sure I've ever seen that before.

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Sunday, 24 July 2011

Just 12 hours in Stockholm ...

Sadly we were only overnight in Stockholm but we got enough of a taste of the city to know we want to go back. We ate in the old city and slept on the 12 floor of a brand new hotel with amazing views of the water and city. If you look carefully at the collage you will see that the naked blogger did not really want to get out of bed to catch the morning boat ... but she did want to look at her email!

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A beautiful day in a beautiful place ...

We are in Mariefred and it is utterly wonderful. I glimpsed this peaceful site as we were about to get on our steamship back to the port this afternoon. The three days of our idyll here have also been the first time we have looked at the tv since being on holiday ... the news from Norway broke just after we arrived. That also rather explains the blogging silence.

Tomorrow we are due to take a train to Trondheim, crossing over the mountains from Sweden and into Norway.

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Thursday, 21 July 2011

Language and Tucholsky

"What about the language problem?" asked the princess when we were sitting in the train to Helsingör. "You've been there before. Is your Swedish good?"
"I get by like this," I said, "First I speak German, and if they don't understand that, English, and if they don't understand that, Platt, and if that doesn't work either, then I stick an "as" ending onto German words, and I find they understand that quite well." This was all we needed. She thought it absolutely wonderful, and immediately incorporated it into her lingusitic paraphenalia.
"So it's Sweden next. What do you think will happenas to us now in Sweden?"
Whatever happens on a holiday ... You, I hope."
"What shall we do now?" I asked, when we'd washed. All we could see of Stockholm from our hotel window was four chimneys agaisnt a blue sky.
"I think," the Princess said "we should first get an interpreter - your Swedish is excellent, quite excellent ... but it must be ancient Swedish, and the people here are so uneducated. So we should take an itnerpreter out into the countryside and find a very cheap little cottage, and we'll stay there very quietly."
From Michael Hofmann's translation of Schloss Gripsholm by Kurt Tucholsky

Any book, any writing, is always about language to some extent, and Gripsholm is full of linguistic play - Tucholsky was after all a satirist. There are some wonderful bits where Lydia, the princess, speaks in her native Platt as they set off on holiday from Berlin. Friends who speak this northern German dialect assure me that they can get by with it quite well in Denmark. Well these days in Scandanavia things are rather different to in the early 1930s and people take one look at us and start speaking English. I have to admit to struggling rather - it seems wrong to rely on English and I find myself suddenly quite fluently speaking the 5 and a half phrases of Dutch I have internalised over the years.
What I am enjoying though is the sliding spelling and pronunciation of words on street signs, in written form I understand more than I expected to. Of course it's also quite fun making up completely wrong translations, just to pass the time of day. Swedes, Danes and Norwegians seem to be able to speak to one another and understand each other fine - perhaps it's just like different dialects of English.

Money, money, money ... a common currency, well maybe not

So as discussions today seem to be moving towards a (let's hope) more stable future for the Euro we are actually on a crazy tour around four European countries that don't have the Euro. Quaint as all of these currencies are it is certainly not all that much fun for the traveller. To make it even more confusing Denmark, Sweden and Norway all call their currency the Krone (the crown) but there are different monarchs on each of these currencies. And of course a different monarch again on the British pound which is the fourth non eurozone country we'll be getting to.
This morning we got on a bus to go to the railway station, we had a 50 Danish Kroner note. The bus driver would not take us because we didn't have the change for the machine ... so we then get change and the next bus comes and eats the first 10 kroner piece. This much more laid back bus driver says "free trip". This is even more exasperating when you know that the Danish Krone is actually tied to the euro and we had plenty of those coins in my purse! However, the Danish Krone with holes through some of the smaller coins is very pretty, so I suppose I must simply celebrate this currency diversity and cope with the fact that we shall just have even more change in the little pots in the kitchen. Anyway, despite being thrown off the first bus we still made it for our train in plenty of time.
Now we're in Stockholm, beautiful city, amazing journey across stunning countryside and a fabulous bridge to get to Malmo from Copenhagen. Train journeys are wonderful, except I kept on wanting to get out and look at the waterlilies.
Meanwhile I wonder about these so called rating agencies valuing currencies - who are they? are they fit for purpose? how much money are they making in the dramatic fluctuations their "ratings" cause on the currency markets? Enough, rant over, off to find some supper!

A collage from our final 24 hours in Copenhagen

We discovered Copenhagen by boat and on foot yesterday. Lots of impressions and fun realising that in its written form I understand the language better than I had thought. It's been brilliant staying in the harbour area rather than in the centre, the short boat trip into town is great fun.

Aufwiedersehen Copenhagen or should that be bonvenon?

We have a glorious final evening in Copenhagen for our wedding anniversary - it was perfect sitting next to the water, eating a delicious meal, listening to a free concert outside the opera opposite. It was great.
Now though we have moved on from Denmark but we hope very much to return for a longer visit than just this taster visit. However, as we leave the Universal Congress of the Esperanto Society will be holding its meeting in the city. No work for me at a meeting like that, I imagine they don't need interpreters.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Giving thanks ...

Un mariage heureux est un plus grand miracle de Dieu que le partage de la mer rouge.
A happy marriage is a greater mircale by God than the separation of the Red Sea.
Jüdisches Sprcichwort
Phrase de la Sagesse Juive

Aimer quelqu'un s'appel porter sur lui le même regard de Dieu quand il l'a créé.
To love someone is to look at them in the same way God did when creating them.

I offer these little quotes not at all from any sense of self satisfaction but from a very deep sense of gratitude to God. And of course also to Stephen. We have had a lovely day and were even blessed with a rainbow over the opera house as we ate our supper. Twenty years is of course nothing ... but it has been great fun for the most part and interesting craziness for the rest.
I shall not apologise for feeling happy and blessed, as I give thanks I realise how fragile all things are and therefore also how precious.

Greetings also to Janet and Bob who are also celebrating 20 years today

A passing thought on the 20th July

Today is 20 July, an important day for us personally, but a more important day in history. This was the day in 1944 when a group of army officers decided it was time to act against Hitler ... because of a table leg the bomb against Hitler did not work ...
Yesterday in Rostock I too this photo outside the railway station as we waited for our tranfer to the ferry port. We smiled at the not quite right translation set here in stone. But I smile too in my heart at the sentiment. How lovely that the local railway flower shop has set things up so that olive trees are in front of this sign.
And yet when I turned around and looked out onto the high rise "socialist" housing opposite the railway station I realised that combatting racism and hatred means having good, decent and respectful housing and social systems; transforming attitudes means being willing to transform lives and communities and not hatred take hold in systems.
That kind of transformation take decades and is not only about words but about real deeds that treat everyone with everyone with respect. Rostock is trying to do that, one word, one school, one train, one housing estate at a time ... it's hard work.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The beginnings of our Tucholsky journey

We began our Tucholsky journey some time ago. Perhaps even over a decade ago when our friend Karin gave Stephen a wonderful audio book of Schloss Gripsholm. To our shame, although both of us knew of Tucholsky's political satire, neither of us had read his fiction. On a subsequent visit to Berlin we travelled to Rheinsberg - delightful, well worth a visit and of course with a strong Voltaire connection too, I think we had coffee in the café Voltaire. We also visited the Tucholsky museum which is moving but also amusing. He knew how to make people laugh. Rheinsberg is the name and setting for another and much earlier love story by Tucholsky.
Last night in Berlin we sat and ate in Tucholsky's the Kneipe at the end of the Tucholsky strasse. we sat outside and I looked down the street to the now gleaming dome of the Synagogue in Oranienburgerstrasse. According to the papers I've seen at the Jewish cemetry in Weissensee this is the place where at least one set of my great grandparents celebrated their wedding, despite already being fairly secular Jews.
Kurt Tucholsky was born in the same year as my grandfather, 1890. Four days before Christmas in 1935 he took his life. Three years younger than I am now, he had achieved a great deal, yet he was facing middle age, finitude and also the terrible scourge of national socialism in his home country. He also suffered from chronic and desperately painful sinus problems. I can understand the desperation. In Berlin I picked up the writings on childhood of another brilliant Jewish author of the same generation, Walter Benjamin, who in 1940 also took his own life rather than fall into the hands of the German authorities. These fragments didn't even come to light until they were unearthed in the French national library in 1981 ... If I have the husband I have it is in some way thanks to Walter Benjamin, so this too seems like the right thing to be reading on our 20th Wedding anniversary journey.
Perhaps it seems a little strange to be going to Mariefred to visit Tucholsky's grave but I suppsoe what we are doing is viisting the place of the story and giving gentle thanks for all the joy and pleasure it has given to us over the years. Even tonight we read bits out to one another over supper - just a few lines about Copenhagen and they made us smile. It is beautifully paced and observed.
We only decided a few weeks ago that this was what we were going to do for this anniversary journey. I could sense we were heading rather helplessly to a proposal neither of us wanted but neither of us could say no to either, then one evening Stephen said but what if we took the train to Gripsholm ... and everything fell into place and into smiles.
Quite funny really, Tucholsky's novella is certainly not bourgeois, yet it will help us over the bourgeois hurdle of "what to do for our 20th".
So here we are simply enjoying the journey those two in the book made and adding on some bits of our own as well. It's been a really fun thing to do. The trains, the ferry, the light in the wide open northern landscapes and the beauty tonight of Copenhagen. Wonderful.


"Expect nothing. Today: that is your life."

Rather unexpectedly we came across this postcard yesterday morning in the theological bookshop. This morning on the train to Rostock Dr B has been reading other choice bits of Tucholsky out loud to me. Food for the mind is also food for the soul.. More as we move towards one of the goals of our interrail journey.
For now we enjoy today, the glorious northern sky, the flat pond of the water, the wonderful black pepper in the gratin and the fast approaching horizon. Very soon I shall be in Denmark for the first time in my life.

Images from our last full day in Berlin

So we visited four bookshops and four cafes, the Spree, Friedrischstrasse and much else besides ... and yes particularly as a result of the book shops the suitcases are heavier this morning!

Monday, 18 July 2011

Memories of Berlin - 2 - the underbelly of a city

In September this year it will be 30 years since I came to live and work in Berlin - just for a year. I came to work at the Evangelisches Johannsstift which is a large Protestant diaconal institution based in Spandau. I worked in a children's home as a volunteer worker. I was just 18 years old. The five "children" I was working with were aged 12-17. Until half way through the year when we started to talk about birthdays they all assumed I was about 30 ...
The children were a family, they had the same mother but different fathers. Being in care saved all of their lives. The two youngest who had been in care and a stable home the longest were coping well with their education. The others were struggling.
Being a tourist in a city there is lots that we choose to turn a blind eye to, hidden and obvious poverty, clear sexual and other forms of exploitation, old people pushed to the margins, people begging ... homeless people.
Thinking about the five young people I shared a year with, about the couple who lived with them day in day out and their three year old daughter, I feel a bit guilty. I know nothing of their current lives. I was just another carer moving through. Was I part of the continuity of care or the discontinuity of care? Did I show them they were loved and important and worthy of better lives, or were they just part of the well-meaning CV of a privileged young woman. Quite probably I got more out of my year than I was really able to put in. Thirty years on I recognise much more clearly how much they needed continuity of love, relationship and care. But they were in a system and systems only rarely offer any of that. Caring for and living with disturbed youngsters takes its toll on the adults, the professionals being paid to do the job. Often the system ends up dealing with their needs as much as with the needs of the youngsters.
Big cities are wonderful vibrant cultural places. They are also places with many cracks for people to fall between. All of our societies need to be measured on how well we are looking after and tranforming the lives of the most disadvantaged.
Being a tourist today I still remember that one of the first sides to this city which I discovered was a side not in many guide books.

Bits and pieces of a Sunday in Berlin

No photos of the rain that poured yesterday evening. Neither can I really take a photo of how happy and relaxed being in our favourite city makes us feel. We went to church at the French-speaking congregation on the Platz der Akademie and then pottered on to the Hakesche Höfe. Tomorrow we leave for Denmark, today bookshops and more pottering . The rain has for now gone. You know what we're on holliday and it's great!

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Memories of Berlin -1

Both Dr B and I used to live in Berlin, at different times and when the city was still divided. Technically I was in Spandau rather than Berlin proper, but in the West. Dr B lived in Friedrichshain in the East, a stone's throw from the great budget hotel we're staying in.
Every time we come back to the city it has all sorts of layers of meaning and memory for both of us together and for each of us.
Since we've been coming here together we tend to stay almost exclusively in the East, making occasional excursions to the West. This means that we are rarely walking around the streets of my former haunts, tho' I do sometimes take myself back to shop in Spandau - these days it's no distance at all.
For me this city is the place I grew up. I came here when I was 18, I worked, earned money, learnt German and how to party. Without that year I would have remained much more provincial and prissy for far longer.
But this is also my father and aunt's city. Sometimes sitting on the older trams I think about them and their cousin Elsa - who died when she was 13. The three of them would go around on public transport speaking German backwards and getting strange looks and incomprehending smiles form fellow passengers. Part of me likes to think I can hear them chatting still somewhere on the city's trams. That makes me think of the many other smiling Jewish children who must once have also travelled the trams, U and S Bahn and of whom there is no trace other than ash.
Yet here in Berlin, alongside the brash and crass adverts and commercialism there are countless memorials to many kinds of pasts - the national socialist past, the communist past, the Wilhelmine past, the "greatness" of Prussia and much more besides.
Recent very happy visits with our mothers and families are also part of our memories of Berlin, their pleasure and discovery of the city we love. Another layer of what being here means, as are the friends we have who live here - and whom we have hardly told we are here this time. Now we are here to do very little indeed. Just potter from coffee place to bookshop to then find a beer to drink.
Tomorrow we leave again, but we will be back and there will be more memories of Berlin as we travel forwards. Being next to the Spree has even inspired the beginnings of an idea for the sermon for my mother's wedding. It seems fitting that the city her first husband was born in should offer me the gift of time to think and creatively work around images for her second marriage.
Berlin destroyed and so much rebuilt, holds all the layers of memory and allows much creativity to bubble up.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

An aphorism that made Dr B laugh as we left Geneva in the train

As we were waiting for the train yesterday morning in Geneva I turned to Stephen and said:

They say behind every successful man is a woman. Perhaps they should also say, behind every unsuccessful woman is a man.

I think this had been triggered to listening toa Radio 4 programme about Churchill the previous evening as we were packing and learning just how reliant he was on his wife and on a huge host of secretaries to take dictation - even sometimes from the bath! Not sure that would be seen as appropriate today!

Thoughts about "Finitude" at the beginning of a journey

In various moments today we have been looking at the wonderful European Interrail map - should we go here, might we have time to get to there ... dreams of a vacation spreading before us and of discoveries yet to be made. Yet our time is finite, we can think that we might try and do some of the other things another time, perhaps but maybe we will never do anything like this again and will just have to live with the remembrance of the dream of what we had hoped and planned to do.
Sitting in the corner of a Berlin Kneipe this afternoon drinking a delicious cup of tea I read Fulbert Steffensky's short essay "Mut zur Endlichkeit. Sterben in einer Gesellschaft der Sieger."
"The Courage to embrace finiteness. Dying in a society of winners." This little pamphlet has been sitting in my "to read" pile for over 18 months and I'm glad it made its way into my suitcase for this journey.
In 44 short pages he covers alot of ground. He speaks about how little the skills and virtues of paliative care are valued in a world obsessed with doing, making, effectiveness, winning, making money, impact ... all those things which Steffensky refers to as Machbarkeitswahn - obsession with producibility, or perhaps a better translation would be our obsession with reducing everything to a commodity. Against this he tries to clearly set the Protestant value of grace - when Steffensky does this it is not at all in an anti-ecumenical spirit. He converted to Protestantism in the late sixties and has tried to prophetically "evangelise" both Protestant and Catholic spirituality - encouraging more interplay between tradition, discipline and engagement. I smiled in acknowledgement of some of the words he uses to describe our societies "There is a stupidity at the highest level, it is the weak thinking of a highly informed society whose knowledge is highly detailed yet holds absolutely no ethical power." Later on he cites Christa Wolf's Kassandra (a figure from mythology I hAve been thinking about a great deal in recent months) who at the gates of Troy says, only if you give up wanting to always win will you be able to build and keep the city. Steffensky goes on to say that in the world of winners there is no room for successful losing. I love that idea - successful losing. Brilliant!
Of course I am reading this essay on finitiude at a very particular point in my life, one when I sometimes feel I have lost almost everything (And it's all right I do know very clearly that i haven't but feelings will not always be reasoned with!). Turning the pages in the Kneipe today was like receiving a gift. One subheading reads "Ganzheit im Fragment" - wholeness, oneness in a fragment, later he says that "thinking about grace means having the courage to act in a fragmentary way." This sounds rather more meaningful and clear in German, but given all my own pondering on fragments and bits and pieces in recent months I found it very helpful.
I also found it challenging to the way we so easily as ecumenists trot out things about unity and wholeness. Often the only wholeness we will see, even that which we work towards, is but a fragment. Yet Steffensky would say there is enormous grace simply in that.
I suspect that this essay was written originally for people working in Church run hospices, to encourage those working with the ill and dying that their work is truly valued and meaningful.
He speaks movingly towards the end about the final 10 years of his wife's life, (he was married to Dorothee Sölle), speaking about how her brush with death, her discovery of the finitude of her life, meant that both of them were able to savour very simple pleasures as the true gift these things were in her final years.
I first read Steffensky over 20 years ago in East Germany, my copy of Feier des Lebens is still covered with pencil jottings and underlined quotes. I then read Die Hinreise by Sölle not knowing at all that they were married. I think I should perhaps tomorrow treat myself to Steffensky's recent book which is called "Black bread spirituality". Such a shame we are staying two minutes walk from a theological bookshop!
Anyway Fulbert thank you so much for writing and thanks for the fragments of grace. A splendid idea. I think I now know that I have to continue to find the courage to be a successful failure. Perhaps we will make it to the arctic circle, perhaps not, in any case we will travel onwards in discovery. I just hope we don't lose the timetable!

Read more by Steffensky here.

All the way on public transport

From the Y bus past the Ferney field of sunflowers to the Tram from Alexanderplatz to Friedrichshain. From Bern to Berlin, one capital to the other. An easy lovely relaxed journey, 12 hours door to door. As always arriving in Berlin feels like coming home. Ah well maybe one day we'll get to live here, for now holiday and our evening drink of Radeberger Pilsner will have to do. Our crazy interrail holiday begins!

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Friday, 15 July 2011

A week of surprising news ... and a promise

Once upon a time I used to blog, I would write often and sometimes even much. These days things are rather quieter. When I blogged more I also read other peoples blogs, not writing so much myself also meant I wasn't reading so much. Three bloggers in particular inspired me as I was starting out, their work intrigued me, David Ker, who blogs all over the place but particularly at Lingamish and Better Bibles Blog; Kurk Gayle, who has had several blogging incarnations but despite a bit of time offline is still very much on form these days at Aristotles Feminist Subject; and Suzanne McCarthy whose blog Suzanne's Bookshelf is a blog that is just balm to my soul. If I had that level of learning and knowledge I would like to write like this too, but I'm so glad she writes, so glad all of them - and many others too - write in their own erudite, empassioned and personal way.
Sometimes I lurk, sometimes I comment. I've always known that although I'm interested in having opinions I don't have time to write a blog, read and get involved in long online arguments. In recent times I've hardly made time to read much of anything, let alone comment.
Anyway this week I learned that Suzanne McCarthy has made it to the number 1 spot on the bibliobloggers top 10. It's very well deserved and you can read her reaction here. You can also read an article by Suzanne "Champion and Defender: the other side of the word." It was written at my request for the The Ecumenical Review, I really hope she will publish more in the future. But I suppose I need to realise that blogging is publishing - certainly the qualitiy of Suzanne's blogging is publishing. She's excellent.
For years the biblioblog top 100 and particularly the top 10 has been seen as quite a male preserve - in places it's also a pretty shall we say muscular world. There has been an ongoing on-off conversation about the need for more women. The fabulous and irrepressible Rachel Marszalek, who blogs at Revising Reform, has joined the team that works on a volunteer basis to provide the Complete List of Biblioblogs, Biblioblog Top 50, and Biblibloggers’ Top 10, and other things biblioblogical. Her blog is packed full of energy and joy: at discovering ideas, reading, studying and the joy of the Bible's stories and message in the context of ministry. Rachel was ordained a few weeks ago, congratulations Rachel and every blessing for your future ministry, of which blogging will be part we hope and pray.
All of this is rather a long introduction to saying that for reasons that are still slightly beyond me but which surprised, delighted and humbled me, I seem to have made the top ten this month myself - from nowhere to place 5. Considering that my output has been very low this year this was to say the least a surprise. Thanks to all who voted for me, I appreciate it very much. And thanks to the folks at Biblioblogs who are also doing sterling work voluntarily on twitter getting news of posts on the biblioblog network out there.
So now for the promise, in the face of this generosity by voters,( perhaps there were only 7 of you this month?) I do promise to tidy up my blog and bring the information on it up to date and to get back into the blogging grove. Thanks to you all pour ce "signe de confiance". Now I need to find out how the voting works. After all generosity is to be shared.
Holiday seems to be the perfect time to start with some of that. Have surfstick, will blog and read. Promise!

Bal populaire, 14 July and la pyrosymphonie

We're back from watching our local taxes go up in the most wonderful array of exploding lights and music. Today was only the second time since the French revolution that the citizens of Ferney gathered to celebrate Bastille Day at the château. At the end of the splendid fireworks - which were accompanied this year by a recording of Joan Sutherland singing some fabulous arias - we were thanked for attending the evening's "Pyrosymphonie". There was no sense of irony in this wonderful neologism - of course in English we call it "son et lumère"!
Anyway it was a great evening, hundreds of people, great food, wonderful jazz music before the sun set, great scenes of adults and children dancing and a full moon.
And who cares how much all those fireworks cost, they made all of us ooh and aah and clap and smile and simply enjoy our national day, even if we are not actually citizens. And it definitely has a lot more class to have the celebration of the revolution up at the château.

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Thursday, 14 July 2011

"Ze Bible" - a great new French Bible for young people

Today is Bastille Day and a public holiday in France, though not in Switzerland where I work. At morning prayer I gave away a copy of the Bible in French, and not just any copy but the latest and hippest version of the Bible "ZeBible". This of course needs to be pronounced with a certain Gallic argotic shrug "sebeeble". This Bible has its own Website and Facebook page. (please click on "j'aime").

ZeBible has a great layout, lots of room for notes and questions and is generally a really good thing. It tries to speak to young people, and even not so young people, in their own language and make reading the age old stories fun, interesting and thought provoking. A way of linking their story, our story, with the story of stories.

The Facebook and website have daily readings and lots of other spaces for discussion and exchange of ideas and information. There's great energy behind the project which is built for the long term, so get involved if you can read French.

As with any annotated Bible it's taken a lot of people a number of years to get it done but the result is really great. If anyone is coming through Ferney Voltaire this Summer I still have two copies to give away but you may have to visit us as penance.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The triumph of life - a poem by Marjorie Pizer

The Triumph of Life
I am emerging from an ocean of grief,
From the sorrow of many deaths,
From the inevitability of tragedy,
From the losing of love,
From the terrible triumph of destruction.
I am seeing the living that is to be lived,
The laughter that is to be laughed,
The joy that is to be enjoyed,
The loving that is to be accomplished.
I am learning at last
The tremendous triumph of life.

Marjorie Pizer

This is one of the poems in a book called Ths too will pass which I bought in Jamaica. It's the sort of book I rather depise normally, beige tinted photos, meaningful quotes, Hallmark style homilies, a feminine rather than a feminist kind of book. Yet it has been good for me to be tempted out of my inherent snobbishness into buying this. I knew nothing of Marjorie Pizer from Australia and her poetry, or political engagement. She sounds like my kind of person.
Sometimes it's good to listen to voice of intuition and just buy what the heart says you should go with, in the end this was not a tawdry book, quite the reverse for someone wrestling with the real perils of depression like I have been. Even if I felt pathetic crying over some of the more home-spun quotes.

Reading this made me realise that yes I have been dealing with this kind of grief ... and of course what I have been confronting has been nothing like grief at all - apart from to me. As my dear friend Nyambura said to me "Nobody died ... and even if they had we believe that is not the end." It has been terribly hard for me to piece my way back to resurrection again. Perhaps I am getting there, slowly but I hope surely ...

The Triumph of life is the title of a much longer and earlier poem written by Shelley shortly before his death. It remains unfinished. Just that fact speaks to me, but also the wonderous idea that the triumph of life comes back to inspire poets across the generations. May it also finally call me away from my tears, for no one has died and even had they, then I believe that is not the end.
This too will pass ...

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

The garden at home ...

Over the past weekend I have been in Redditch, actually even in Astwood Bank, to spend a bit of quality time with my Mum and Martin to talk through wedding preparations. This is not really something they train you for at theological college - taking your mother's wedding. The event will take place at Emmanuel Church in Redditch - my home congregation and will be followed by a cream tea in the church hall and then fish and chips or curry for over 50 folk back at the house.
It is going to be fun and we all hope that this view will be part of it, however even if it rains we will have glorious day.
This view from the back step at my childhood home is one I can simply drink in for hours, these photos don't give you the full extent - this was a cloudy day. Often you can see all the way to the Malvern hills and on clear days even as far as the Black Mountains in Wales. I love the sense of space and the amazing sunsets.
Martin has been living in the house for just over 2 and half years. (When my mum announced his arrival in her life by telephone she said: "I have an added complication in my life" "ah" I replied you mean a man" .... in the ensuing conversation I said something daughterly like "Well just take things slowly" and Mum replied "it's a bit late for that!" hmmm ...) He is tenaciously transforming the garden - which is no easy task. Throughout my childhood the right hand border of the garden was lined with ancient rotting willow trees, all now coppiced or removed - as a result whole new horizons and views have been opened up.
My brother's bedroom at home overlooks this view - it was the room he was born in. My bedroom overlooked the main road and that is still the one I choose when I go home on my own. But the view out the back is part of me. I realised this last year when thinking about the view inspired me to write this sermon on the Mother tongue of ecumenism - a sermon that came almost fully formed in one of those rare moments of inspiration.
The view is perfect but changing, ancient but part of a very human landscape. Twenty years ago we put a big blue and white tent up at the bottom of the garden for our marriage. At the end of the day I was wandering barefoot around the garden hand in hand with Stephen. Very, very happy.
When I was a child the garden was much wilder than it is now, a place of great adventure, stinging nettles, ancient pigsties, treehouses and gooseberries, balckberries and apples to be picked.
Anyway for those who are interested here's the beginning to the sermon - quite fun to re-read it 18 months on ...

A room with a view
There is a wonderful view from the back bedroom of my parents' house. It was the room where my mother gave birth to my brother, less than a mile from where her own mother had given birth to her.
The view is of rolling fields and greenery, trees and hedges; in the distance 40 miles away are the Malvern Hills (not quite Mont Blanc or the Alps but beautiful nevertheless). Further away still and only to be seen on a clear day is a glimpse of another country the outline of the black mountains in Wales, and a reminder of a different and more ancient Celtic language, which the English language has pushed to the margins – just as the English language is pushing so many other languages to the margins these days.
This is the view my brother and I still sit on the back step to drink in on our rare visits home.
That view has hardly changed in our lifetime. It speaks to us of childhood and beauty. It is also a landscape we have simply always known, a landscape that seems to know and welcome us back into its beauty and our memories.
The view I love so much would probably still be recognisable to William Shakespeare who was born just 10 miles away. When I think of where I come from that greenery and stretching view come to mind straight away. I understand that landscape like I understand my mother tongue.
And yet …
These days when I think about "home" it's often an exercise in cognitive dissonance
Home is not just a long way away, though not as far as for many of you, but “home” is also to some extent a long time ago.
These days when I go back I often feel as if I'm in a foreign land - even though people all around speak the same language as me. I feel caught between Babel and Pentecost, which is why I've chosen those texts this morning.

Friday, 8 July 2011

What greatness have you come to earth to accomplish? Reflections on Hebron, the pain of dialogue and how we live ...

Gradually what I interpreted yesterday morning is shaking down, getting decanted and I can begin to remember a bit more of it.LienOne of the ideas that Rabbi Marc Raphael Guedj ended up talking about yesterday morning was weakness and strength, what is the greatness that we are called to. He got on to this subject following a question from a Palestinian participant about the spiritual importance in Judaism of Hebron. It was a genuine question in the respectful setting of dialogue, but the background was of course the present day situation in Hebron.
Guedj explained that Hebron is the place where according to tradition Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are buried. It is seen as the cave that Abraham chose to bury Sara. At one point as Guedj was saying this he said "you know myths are facts - just because they are myths doesn't mean they are not facts. We live with the reality of the resonance of old myths right up into our present time." So Hebron has this particular resonance and mythic religious quality in Judaism. And of course in Islam it has a different mythic resonance.
Guedj went on to explain that there is even a tradition in Hassidic Judaism that Adam and Eve themselves are buried in the same Hebron cave. It's therefore symbolic almost as the birthplace, the cradle of humanity.
Yet today this deeply symbolic place is fought and struggled over. A place of mystical meaning is a place of violence and contestation.
This then led to quite a spiritual reflection from two Jewish Hassidic masters, the first from Rav Ahkenazi who said "Show me what you celebrate and I will show you your weakness". The second came from Rav Zadok of Lublin who encouraged his followers to think about the greatness each of us is called to, and to consider that the greatness we are called to accomplish is in some way to repair our weakness, the weakness within us ...
Guedj then brought these two ideas together - more carefully than I am able to in my half remembered interpreters brain - in thinking about Hebron. He said, perhaps the greatness I am called to is to be present in that situation in Hebron, to repair that weakness which Judaism celebrates, to be present in the present day reality and facts of the celerbated myth. Seeing Hebron not only as the tomb of the Patriarchs but also as the cradle of humanity helps to enter into the dialectical counterpoint of weakness, greatness and celebration.
So what do I celebrate? What is my weakness? And you?

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Are we pregnant with God or is God pregnant with us?

It is always interesting to interpret, especially philosophical and religious French as I did this morning for Rabbi Marc Raphael Guedj who was once more sharing his insights at the Bossey inter-faith summer school. Guedj always insists on the way values inform one another: not justice or charity but charity and justice, not just the letter but also the spirit, not just the spirit but also the letter - he often quotes Emmanuel Levinas' idea that "the letter is the folded wing of the spirit". Not just the written tradition but also the oral tradition. Not just one single and fundamentalist interpretation, but many in discussion and even in disagreement with one another.
Today he took us into rather different territory as he tried to get across the idea of immanence and transendence. At several points he said things along the lines of God being pregnant with humanity, wanting to offer some trace, some outline of Godlikeness to humanity. He spoke movingly of the feminine qualities of God, in the same terms as of the Western (wailing) wall of the Temple in Jerusalem - a totally dependable support. Interesting to think of a feminine quality in those terms. He went on to say that humanity, made in the image of God, is also in some way pregnant with a trace of God, wanting to give birth to that search for the Divine.
The word for pregnant in French in "enceinte" - it has the same root as the French for belt, ceinture, also "une enceinte" is a girded place, within the castle walls for instance. If you want to say in French that a man, or a male gendered object like "un pont", is pregnant it is almost impossible to do this grammatcally - you should say "le pont était enceint" but today of course Rabbi Guedj said "c'est comme si Dieu était enceinte de l'humanité". I really wish I had been able to take notes and so offer more than these fragments of remembered words which went into my ears and sort of came out of my mouth, I do know that I smiled as I heard him say that - knowing that the word "pregnant" in English would not entirely get across the shock of what he had just said.
Thinking about it now it reminded me of Ursula Le Guin's wonderful line "the King was pregnant" in the Left Hand of Darkness. And so I googled and got to this re-reading of Le Guin and now I know one of the books I shall be taking on holiday with me.
So I wonder, what trace of God might I be able to be pregnant with, to give birth to?

Monday, 4 July 2011

Fragments, mosaics, patterns ...

For quite some time I seem to have been dwelling on fragments, fragments of lent and Advent. Bits and pieces, scraps of cloths, small quotes, kennings, beginnings of ideas, theology of fragments, an ecumenism of fragments ...
This evening I went out to supper with a friend and was given a very special box covered in tiny fragments of beautiful wood and precious mother of pearl. I couldn't stop running my hand over it, so pretty, so lovely, Not perfect but simply beautiful.
I talked about the fragments and my friend began to speak about the importance of mosaic in her culture, how it offers a different approach to melting pot multiculturalism. In the culture of the mosaic each shapely fragment is valued because it is used to make up part of the pattern. The fragments are part of a pattern.
In a way I cannot even really put into words I found this deeply meaningful today. It was both reassuring and grace filled as an idea for me. As I try somehow to gather up what I feel is shattered and put it together it is purposeful to feel that these shards of precious life-giving colour may actual produce pattern, pattern that may even be aesthetically pleasing or spiritually meaningful.
The fragments may yet come together in a new whole, that too may of course be shattered. Yet the patterning and the yearning for meaning and beauty will remain.
I realise I have been blessed.
Meanwhile I must try to find more of Henning Luther's writing in the theology of fragments.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Listen, Build, Engage, Share … an article written for a Danish web portal

Sometimes we only write because other people ask us to write. So thanks to Christian Cohr Arffmann for asking me to write. Now my jottings have been translated into Danish. Perhaps I will get around to writing the four other particles I thought about as I was writing this. It's not very edgy, but perhaps that's what you get when you ask a church bureaucrat to write. Oh dear is that really what I am? aie!
Anyway here it is ... and you can read the Danish here.

The future of the church is not behind us. That may sound obvious, but often in western Europe our vision for how the church should be is modelled on how things were in the past. Yet globally today’s church is youthful, it’s growing and it's engaged with people in their daily struggles for life, existence and meaning. Millions of people in today’s world continue to be inspired and transformed by the words and story of Jesus of Nazareth. It’s difficult to know how many Bibles are being printed in China today; nearly impossible to count how many meals Christians serve to the world's hungry each day. That should be reason to hope and give real energy for the future. We need to listen to stories of hope and change and allow ourselves to be fed by them.
In rural Tanzania a young Anglican community worker, employed by a Lutheran agency, encourages people in civil society to take action to safeguard their right to water. Working with local mosques and churches is an important part of that advocacy and education. To make a change in people's daily lives in a meaningful way, building bridges across denominations, across religions and engaging with civil society is essential.
Across the world working for transformation, development or education means tapping into the extraordinary network of professionalism, creativity and community that is the church. Not many other organisations have the inbuilt capacity for national and international advocacy while maintaining strong local involvement.
Sometimes in western Europe the picture looks different. Of course some parts of the church will not continue in their present form. There are institutions that will not survive, buildings that will be closed. There is pain and grief when things die. There are also real worries: will there be churches committed and able to take the agenda of social justice and peace into the future? It can be a frustrating and very challenging time for institutions, desperate to hold on to and assert their identity.
Nevertheless, I believe that what is emerging is a complex picture of new ways of belonging to church and practising faith. People will shop around for a community which "fits" their needs at a particular time in their faith journey. At the same time there is enormous gospel creativity, new forms of church - not so based on denominations - are emerging. People want to bear witness to the gospel that inspires them, be involved in practical service with the suffering and dispossessed, using church buildings in new ways, discovering both a new monasticism and a new ecumenism - look at the exciting development in the harbour of Hamburg, where 18 churches decided that instead of building their own places of worship, they would pool their resources in one ecumenical centre. Others like the Moot project in Britain live out their faith in small groups in the heart of vulnerable communities - daring to live alongside and share with those whom society would rather forget about or scapegoat.
So are we dreaming the right dream for the future? Do we want something big and powerful when the future of the church - at least here in western Europe - may lie in something smaller but much more transformational. Worldwide most Christian churches exist in the context of being minorities. This needs to inform how we dream and hope. We need to let those biblical kingdom visions of yeast, seeds and hidden treasure inform our theology of hope more clearly.
One thing I believe I discern in the current situation of the church globally is that many Christians are learning that there are people working for peace, justice, health and service from all parts of the church.
The World Council of Churches recently held an International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in Jamaica. At the gathering in Kingston extraordinary stories were told, a common spirit for peace with justice was discovered and celebrated as we read the Ecumenical Call to Just Peace. The stories of the encounters and experiences of Christians and churches working for social justice and to overcome violence will go on being told.
The Quaker theologian Grace Jantzen repeatedly points to how Christian theology needs to focus more on that which is "natal" rather than that which is "mortal". Human beings are made for life. Are our churches able to do that?
We need to be challenged by social media and networking in the way we build the future. We need to find ways for our stories of life, hope and inspiration to go "viral". But we can be encouraged by social media, which focus on four key words: Listen, Build, Engage, Share. That’s not a bad starting point in charting a path for the future of the church.