Friday, 28 March 2008

WSCF calls for all to stand in solidarity with Zimbabwe during tomorrow's election

The World Student Christian Federation calls on all SCMers worldwide and
our many other friends to stand in solidarity with the SCM in Zimbabwe,
young people, churches and all Zimbabweans this Saturday, 29 March 2008, as
the people of Zimbabwe go to vote in an important election to choose a
president, 210 Members of Parliament, 90 senators and local councillors.

Please keep the people of Zimbabwe in your thoughts and prayers at this
important time in the life of their country.

Messages of solidarity may be sent to the SCM in Zimbabwe through our
Inter-Regional Office in Geneva at

In Peace and Hope,

Kenneth J. Guest
World Student Christian Federation

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

A birthday quote for Dr Brown's jubilee birthday

Der Himmel hat den Menschen als Gegengewicht zu den vielen Mühseligkeiten des Lebens drei Dinge gegeben: die Hoffnung, den Schlaf und das Lachen.
Heaven has given human beings three things as a counterbalance to the many troubles of life: hope, sleep and laughter.

Immanuel Kant

Happy birthday Stephen and here's to a great week of parties - or given the weather snowball fights maybe?

Monday, 24 March 2008

Soundtrack to my life

I'm just a non-conformist lass at heart. This doesn't mean I have a taste for the avant garde in music nor that I'm particularly anti-establishment, just that I'm one of those Daughters of Dissent (just realised though that would be a great name for a band).
At least part of my family is very musical - my mother is a violin teacher. But when I think about the soundtrack to my own life it really is desperately limited, plebian, out of date and dull these days. The downloads on my ipod shuffle consist so far entirely of radio podcasts, the spoken word, the spoken word and more spoken word. Since my wonderful Technics stereo gave up the ghost years ago I have hardly ever played music regularly. My great collection of vinyl is still down in the garage and even our more limited collection of CDs can't be used since the demise of the CD player we bought for a birthday party a decade ago.
So the soundtrack to my life is not music that I listen to but rather music that I sing, or remember singing, so you can guess that this means I am completely limited to stuff I sing in church or chapel. Oh dear this really is not hip is it?
At least when I was younger there was a bit more variety to the soundtrack to my life, real concerts, records, discos and even oh horror musical theatre - Gilbert and Sullivan anyone? Oklahoma? The Desert Song? - I warn you the list could go on. My exposure to this was such in my youth that I thought it strange that in real life people did not seem to break into perfect song and dance routines in the street. It did seem rather dull by comparison!
These days my inner soundtrack is less Blue Heaven and you and I than ubi caritas et amor. And let's face it either is pretty sad! If I were ambitious I would try to take my musical education in hand a bit, but as it is I spend a nice evening at home listening to more talk radio and reading the hymnbook.
I console myself with a quote from the great departed Erik Routley "Hymns are the folktunes of the church militant". Get people to hum the music and they'll remember the words and imbibe the theology (unfortunately often dubious in many hymns). And the path to Christian unity is fraught with problems of singing words to the right tune - I am almost physically ill if I have to sing "God of Grace and God of Glory" to Cwm Rhondda rather than to Rhuddlan (In fact I've even refused to put in a link because all the cyberhymnals are US dominated and that is the tune always used there!). Singing an Easter hymn in French yesterday to the tune of "While Shepherds washed their flocks by night" was also a bit bizarre.
I warned you it was sad. I can talk not only about the first line of hymns but also about hymn tunes, new words to Merthyr Tydfil or Leoni anyone? In France and Germany hymn tunes don't have names, so I am sadly deprived.
Anyway just in case anyone else is interested my favourite hymn is currently one I only learnt a couple of years ago for the WCC assembly in Porto Alegre. It is called Tenemos Esperanza written by Federico Pagura during the dictatorship in Argentina, it has a tango tune and is great fun, you can find it in the Agape hymbook with a great English translation.
It vies for first place with the wonderful "Break the bread of belonging" by Brian Wren - find it in Praising a Mystery.
So any hints on how to improve my musical education gratefully received. The soundtrack to my life needs some renewal, if not transformation!

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Bearing witness to the resurrection

At worship this Easter morning our minister Bernard Millet had three people in the congregation stand up and read short passages on the meaning of resurrection towards the end of his sermon - we all received the texts as well, entitled the monk, the psychoanalyst and the pastor - Anselm Grün, Nicole Carre, Martin Luther King.
The texts were well chosen and gave us much to ponder on. But more than that was the simple act of the people who read them. Listening to texts on the meaning of the resurrection had an added density for me as I reflected on the history of grief of each of the readers: One had been the first on the scene at the crash which killed one of his twin nieces; another had her husband die suddenly just before reaching retirement; the other is busy clearing her parents' house following her father's death.
Listening to them it occurred to me that this is part of what incarnating the resurrection means. Picking up the pieces of grief, distress and destruction and daring meaningfully to live and believe.
Ordinary extraordinary people living out resurrection.


I have begun Easter Sunday morning by listening to a long interview with Desmond Tutu on the Something Understood programme on BBC Radio 4. I'm not normally a great fan of Mark Tully's continuity announcement approach to global spirituality but Tutu is always worth hearing. An icon of our age, you can listen again here.

And now I've been reading a review by in the Times online of Geza Vermes's book Resurrection. It shows why it is perhaps difficult for clergy who have studied the scholarship on the resurrection to always preach good Easter sermons - will have to see if mine from last year passes muster 12 months on. We'll nevertheless be off to church later and then have friends round for Easter lunch. However no Easter egg hunt more like a snowball fight in the garden. More snow has fallen overnight.

Here is how Sardar ends his article, I fear I may have think about buying this book too...

"But Christianity does not hinge solely on the claim that Jesus “defeated death”. One does not have to believe in literal, physical resurrection to be moved and influenced by the teachings of Jesus. Faith may involve a leap into the spiritual and metaphysical realm, but it cannot avoid evidence altogether. The worth of a faith is judged by how it makes good things happen, not by how it sticks to things that did not happen. And how much attention it gives to respectful and reverential critics such as Geza Vermes."

Saturday, 22 March 2008

From Christmas to Easter with Adrian Frutiger

Adrian Frutiger is a Swiss typographer and artist. For Easter the Eglise Réformée de France has put this series of images called "From Christmas to Easter" on its webiste.
I really like the way the resurrection is echoed in the incarnation - and vice-versa; the way the theological idea of the work is developed like an alphabet but over 7 days (like creation perhaps?) rather than over 24 or 26 letters also interests me. I've become increasingly interested in the alphabet since starting calligraphy a decade ago - unfortunately I'm still a débutant.
Looking at Frutiger's images made me wonder about whether resurrection is a form of "ex-carnation" - or perhaps that's what ascension is.
The photos of the work are by my friend and ERF colleague Jérôme Cottin who was one of the founders of Protestantisme et Images, an association which tries to get art and images to be take more seriously within francophone Protestantism. These days he also lectures at the Roman Catholic university in Paris. Together with his wife Bettina who is also a minister and orginally from Berlin, they translated into French the letters between Bonhoeffer and his fiancée Maria von Wedemeyer.
Anyway, for some rather more erudite and thorough-going discussion than is available from my keyboard, and for review of the theology of resurrection (and much else besides) I really recommend Simon Barrow's recent postings on his Faith in Society blog. Always stimulating. Here are two tastes from his recent output which has been prolific both in quantity and quality:

"There is a terror to the Easter message, and it has nothing to do with resurrection as a 'get out clause'. We will come to that issue later. First, thanks to Rob Telford, I chanced upon Kim Fabricius's passionate Palm Sunday sermon, Lose Your Faith. There's a we bit of, um, overkill here, maybe (aagh... I can be very English), but the assault on sentimental religion and the recognition of Jesus' death as an assault on false gods, many of them perpetuated in his name, is sound. I have often described Christianity, rightly understood, as the most effective way of not believing the kind of nonsense perpetuated by so much religion, Christian religion included. But in the pity is also the possibility, the echo of a future not our own. That, rather than the consolation of magic, is where we en up later in the week." (You can read the whole post here)

This quote comes from a later post by Simon entitled Facing the crucified - and the crucifiers:
'In her excellent article Being on the side of the crucified, which will also appear in the Sewanee Theological Review, Savi Hensman raises questions highly appropriate to the narrative, message and calling of Good Friday. She asks:
"How highly do we prioritise the preservation of the current order and protection of existing patterns of wealth and privilege, which may benefit us individually and institutionally? In providing pastoral care to the privileged and powerful, are we able to remain detached from their outlook and encourage them to seek a higher good? Do we tend to adopt society’s values, dismissing as unimportant the hardship and injustice endured by the poor and marginalised, or are we bearers of good news even in bleak situations?"'

World Water Day - Youth insights on Seven Weeks for Water

So today is World Water Day. There are events happening all over the world, scroll down the list here and see what's happening in your country. As the focus this year is on sanitation the campaign to stand up for those who can't sit down is really worth taking part in.
If you can't find something happening near you why not use the day this year to start working and networking on water issues in your area and prepare for a world water day event next year.
Over at Seven Weeks for Water, Natalie Maxson from Canada, who is in charge of the World Council of Churches youth programme, has written a meditation about God's gift of water. She writes powerfully about human responsibility for water, dam bulding and how water is a key right being denied to indigenous people through such large scale construction projects. Natalie also invited three young people Angelious Michael, Mutua Kobia, & Wade Lifton to write about water, its meaning for them and their involvement in campaigning on water issues.
Remember together we can make a difference, so get passionate about water!

A spiritual exercise for Holy Saturday
World Water Day falls this year on Holy Saturday it's called still or silent Saturday in some traditions. Perhaps on that silent day as we wait for the joy of the resurrection to break through we can imagine or listen to the sound of water dripping, marking time. Imagine just how precious each drop is, how life-giving, how essential. Reflect also that Jesus promised to be a source of living waters to the woman at the well.
Maybe you can make recordings or podcasts of a baby being bathed or of water being poured or of a fountain gurgling.
The sound of water reminds us of God's promise of plenty; silence can remind us how little just sharing there is of this resource that is essential for life.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Good Friday gospel musings

We've just returned from the Good Friday service here in Ferney.

It was very simply and Reformed, we listened to the whole of the passion narrative in Matthew's gospel, celebrating communion at the beginning of the service as this is where the narrative of the institution comes in the passion story. There was wonderful organ music and the congregation made a good attempt at singing various Bach chorales.
I am always very stimulated through listening to any longer public reading or recitation of the Bible. There are always bits I'd forgotten about, parts that strike me with renewed force, things my mind dwells on. I realised immediately that given Peter's tears as the cock crows he is the first to show remorse and guilt - even before Judas - despite my too hasty off the cuff judgement yesterday.
Tonight I was very struck by the "Many women, watching from far off, who had followed him from Galilee" in the crucifixion scene but also by the two Joseph's who somehow bear earthly Christ at the beginning and end of Matthew's gospel - the earthly father willing to take on the strangely, wondrously pregnant Mary, then the wealthy man willing to give his tomb for one who has been put to death as a criminal. The Joseph at the beginning of the gospel dreams dreams that protect the coming and then newly born child, but in the passion narrative it is Pilate's wife who dreams to try to encourage her husband to take this unknown Jesus with some seriousness - this is what triggers his public handwashing.
Dr Brown meanwhile had been dwelling on the seeming contradiction or juxtaposition of verses 29 "I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom."and verse 32 "But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee." in chapter 26. The first would seem to be more of an eschatological promise but the second promise seems to be of a rather different order. What might it all mean??
Ah well, we came up with no answers but we did have an almost interesting exegetical discussion was had over our salmon supper.

Blizzard for the first day of spring

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Maundy Thursday worship for World Water Day

So at midday today we met in the chapel. We sang and remembered Pilate's betrayal through public handwashing and Christ's slave-like commitment in foot washing; and we broke bread and poured wine; prayed for millions throughout the world who today and tomorrow and next week will have no adequate access to clean water.
It was a powerful half hour.
We prayed for colleagues who are facing illness and wrenching grief this Holy Week; we prayed for horrific situations human beings are living through from Iraq to Tibet, from Afghanistan to Chad to Palestine to Cambodia...
Lord in your mercy...

I'm not sure whether I would have made the juxtaposition between Pilate washing his hands for false absolution and Jesus washings his disciples feet in an act of pure love and servce if we had not been trying to raise awareness of water during Lent. That interchange between the Bible our context, our lives and concerns is a continual source of inspiration to me and I felt very moved. One of the real joys and wonders of ministry for me is this continual discovery of the newness from biblical texts.
You can find the liturgy and my sermonette in the docs section or by clicking on the links.

Way of the Cross ~ Good Friday

This painting hangs in the parish rooms of Oullins Reformed Church in Lyon. The artist is female but no one was able to give me her name. I love the blue colours and the way the cross seems to be at once both a heavy burden and to point weightlessly backwards to a mysterious future.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Service for Maunday Thursday

I've just posted tomorrow's midday Maunday Thursday service to the docs section. It's a short communion service with water as the theme. Now I'm off to do a bit of etymological research about the word Maunday or should that be Maundy?
Meanwhile I am trying to calm down my guest blogger who seems to be getting rather over-excited about somewhat arcane and esoteric aspects of ecumenical theology. It's all a bit above my head but I will insist he uses some pictures at least next time. Mind you I'm not quite sure how you illustrate the thoughts of Pope Benedict XVI, now there's a challenge!

Passion and Betrayal on Seven Weeks for Water

Tomorrow is Maundy Thursday a day when Christ's last meal with his disciples is remembered by the church. By coincidence it is also the day this year when the UN in Geneva is marking World Water Day - two days early because of the Good Friday holiday.
This week's meditation on Seven Weeks for Water focuses on the idea of water as a sign of passion and commitment, and as a sign of betrayal.
Two bowls of water and ritual washings are told of in the narratives of Christ's passion - Jesus washing his disciples' feet in John's gospel and Pilate washing his hands in front of the crowd in Matthew's gospel.
I don't normally like mixing up the gospel narratives like this but as our meditations on water have progressed the image of these very different ways of washing really challenged me.
The meditation ends:
"As we meditate Christ's passion we reflect on our own service of others. We also seek to understand and enter into the suffering of so many in our world whose right to be human is being undermined by their daily struggle for access to clean water.
So are we going to follow Christ and take up the cloth and the bowl or follow Pilate and wash our hands of responsibility?"
In the section on how to take action there are ideas about doing things in preparation for World Water Day on Saturday including these:

  • Wash your hands and think
    Everytime you wash your hands this week remember to take responsibility for talking about water as a basic resource everyone has the right to.
  • Get passionate about water
    Find out what's going on near you for World Water Day and get involved with others in local, national and international water campaigns.
Please keep supporting the Ecumenical Water Network and building up your local water networks. The water Lenten meditations will continue past Easter - those following the Julian calendar will still be in Lent for several weeks yet. Next week young people from various places around the world will be writing about their involvement in water issues.
And remember the closing date for the Ecumenical Water Summer School is March 24th so use the holiday weekend to fill in the forms.

Squaring the circle on papal primacy - a guest blogger writes

In his general audience on 5 March, in the course of an exposition about St Leo the Great, Pope Benedict XVI focussed on the issue of the primacy of the bishop of Rome:

Leo the Great, constantly thoughtful of his faithful and of the people of Rome but also of communion between the different Churches and of their needs, was a tireless champion and upholder of the Roman Primacy, presenting himself as the Apostle Peter's authentic heir ... it is clear that the Pope felt with special urgency his responsibilities as Successor of Peter ... And the Pontiff was able to exercise these responsibilities, in the West as in the East, intervening in various circumstances with caution, firmness and lucidity through his writings and legates. In this manner he showed how exercising the Roman Primacy was as necessary then as it is today to effectively serve communion, a characteristic of Christ's one Church.
At the time, a number of commentators interpreted these remarks as a shot across the bows of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos I, who Benedict was due to meet the following day, by restating with clarity the claims of papal primacy for the first as well as the second millennium. Yet there is also a very different way to interpret what is going on here. The crucial phrase is, "communion". But first, it is necessary to take stock of the Orthodox-Roman Catholic dialogue.

In October 2007, the joint international commission for the theological dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church agreed the Ravenna statement on ecclesial communion, conciliarity and authority (see the ENI and the Catholic News Service articles). The document is too rich to be summarised in a few sentences, but both sides at the Ravenna meeting accepted that before 1054, the Bishop of Rome had the first place among the other bishops, though the Catholic and Orthodox participants disagreed, "on the interpretation of the historical evidence from this era regarding the prerogatives of the bishop of Rome". The document also says that there must be "synodality", that is, responsibility exercised by all the bishops together, on the universal level. Central to this convergence in views is the perspective of koinonia/communion. The document concludes:
It remains for the question of the role of the bishop of Rome in the communion of all the Churches to be studied in greater depth. What is the specific function of the bishop of the “first see” in an ecclesiology of koinonia and in view of what we have said on conciliarity and authority in the present text? How should the teaching of the first and second Vatican councils on the universal primacy be understood and lived in the light of the ecclesial practice of the first millennium? These are crucial questions for our dialogue and for our hopes of restoring full communion between us.
There are two interesting aspects about this conclusion: firstly, the specific function of the bishop of the "first see" is to be seen from the perspective of an "ecclesiology of koinonia, and secondly it is the "ecclesial practice of the first millennium" that appears to be normative for interpreting the teaching of the first and second Vatican councils on the universal primacy. This latter point seems to have more than some resemblance to the perspective outlined by Joseph Ratzinger himself for the reunion of the Eastern Orthodoxy and Western Catholicism in his "Principles of Catholic theology", while seeing ecclesiology as related to koinonia owes much to the insights of Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon, one of the Orthodox participants at Ravenna. The NCR's John Allen has himself pointed to the parallels between the thought of Zizioulas and Ratzinger:
Zizioulas pioneered the concept of "communion ecclesiology," the idea that the church is constituted by the celebration of the Eucharist around the bishop, which has had great influence also in Roman Catholicism in the period after the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). In his own theological work, Joseph Ratzinger has written that the "ecclesiology of communion" is a useful point of departure, though he's warned that it must not exalt the local church at the expense of the universal. For his part, Zizioulas has argued that Orthodoxy can accept the universal primacy of the pope, if it is "fundamentally qualified," meaning that it respects the autonomy of local churches and acts through a synodal structure.
Now back to Pope Benedict's general audience on 5 March. It is noteworthy that when Benedict described the primacy exercised by Leo the Great, he twice referred to "communion" as the defining feature of Leo's primacy. AsiaNews, in its report of the the audience, said that Benedict had referred to the "primacy of communion" (though this actual phrase is missing from the official text issued by the Vatican). Ratzinger himself in 1965 had already referred to the idea of a "primacy of communion", noting that "the primacy of the bishop of Rome in its original meaning is not opposed to the collegial character of the Church but is a primacy of communion in the midst of the Church living as a community and understanding itself as such". (Later the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with Ratzinger as its prefect would issue what was described in America magazine under the title "Primacy in Communion" as a "remarkable" document, "Reflections on the Primacy of Peter")

But a Google search, at least, turns up precious few other references to "Primacy of Communion". The exception is the work of the German theologian Hermann Joseph Pottmeyer: "
Of special interest to us is his exegesis of Vatican II, from which emerges a '(papal) primacy of communion.' What this mean is that it is the pope's role 'to represent and maintain the unity of the universal communion of the Churches.' (Reference) Even more interesting, however, is his exegesis of Vatican I, as in this interview in 30 Days:
In the nineteenth century, because of the concrete historical situation that had been created, the Church felt the urgent need to stress that when Ecclesiae necessitas demands it, the pope can intervene throughout the whole Church, his freedom of action is not subject to the authorization of any human authority and his decisions are without appeal. But when the same criterion of Ecclesiae necessitas demands it, the mode of the exercise of the primacy can and must be changed, without that meaning the truth of the dogma is put in question. And the restoration of unity so as to re-arrive at the condition of the undivided Church of the first millennium is a part of Ecclesiae necessitas.
In other words, approaching the issue of the primacy of the bishop of Rome from the standpoint of "primacy in communion", not only links back to the way in which this primacy was exercised in the first millennium (the first task outlined in the conclusion of the Ravenna document), but also offers a way of understanding "the teaching of the first and second Vatican councils on the universal primacy" in the light of the ecclesial practice of the first millennium (the second task).

(And it's worth noting that both Zizioulas and Pottmeyer took part in a 2004 symposium on papal primacy.)

So far, so good, but ... three days after the Pope's general audience on the primacy of the bishop of Rome, Archbishop Angelo Amato, the secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said he had concerns about the Ravenna document, saying that it appeared to rely too heavily on Orthodox terminology and did not give enough emphasis to the Catholic position that the jurisdictional primacy of the pope is an essential part of the structure and nature of the church.

So, is the circle squared? Only time will tell.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

A poem for Holy Week by Janet Lees

My friend Janet Lees started blogging today and immediately posted this brilliant poem for Holy Week she's just written. You can find more of Janet's prayers and poems at the back of her excellent book Word of Mouth, and also in many of Geofrey Duncan's anthologies.

The week

This is the week:
the week of cheers
that turn to mocking and jeers
and then to silence
that storms out of twisted streets
to stand at crossroads
in Lhasa, Harare and Rangoon;
the half-remembered week
where guttering flames
and a few lined faces
keep this vigil, still;
the week that takes us further
than any other
and always ends in tears.

copyright: Janet Lees all rights reserved

Monday, 17 March 2008

Are you one of the crowd or are you prepared to bear witness? A reflection for Holy Week from Rev. Dr Setri Nyomi

Setri Nyomi, who is general secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, preached a thought-provoking sermon this morning taking us from Palm Sunday to Good Friday.
He asked us to consider whether we were simply members of the crowd, crying "Hosanna" when everyone else did and "Crucuify him" when that was more in vogue; or whether we were witness willing to hold on to a longer term and more difficult truth.
Setri put it this way,

"A witness stands by what he/she has seen, and is prepared to go against the tide to proclaim it. A witness looks at the evil and injustice in society, and sees God’s call to be agents of transformation – and we can do no other. Someone who goes with the crowd, may when convenient speak the language of justice because we find ourselves in the company of people who are talking justice in this house – but when we are in another setting where people are condemning those who stand for justice as fanatic and ideological, we go along with the flow. It is easy to do."

His preaching also inspired Manoj Kurian to write some verses in response to the challenge. I've posted the verses here but here's a taste:

"Are we part of the crowd ?
Swayed by the influential and the appealing?
Making convenient compromises,
Preserving and expanding our power and status;
Oblivious of the Messiah among the vulnerable and the poor;
Broadening the highways of our selfish desire;
Obstructing the narrow paths;
That lead to the reign of God."

You can find the order of service from this morning here.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

The left gains ground in French elections - word of the day ras de marée

So the left has gained ground across France this Sunday as last and of course we are delighted. France 3 is just telling us that our département (Ain) and region (Rhône Alpes) are undergoing a landslide victory by the left, including the town of Belley (of Curé d'Ars and Brillat Savarin fame) which has been held by the right since the end of the war. (ras de marée which is literally a high tide or tidal wave is translated in political terms as landslide - nothing to do with rats I assure you.)
What I find rather worrying though is that these real gains by the left at the local level are being made at a time when the French left has no national leadership, no programme to speak of and no organisation at all it would seem. Not much chance of change at the national level given last year's presidential and legislative elections.
Trying to get any idea of who we should vote for from the local French socialist party was almost impossible - in the end we took late counsel from the Genevan socialist party!
Anyway for the time being I shall leave my concerns to one side and just enjoy the evening. The niggling feeling remains that this will give the PS the wrong idea that they are more united than they are.
One day I think I'll understand that I need to worry less about French politics and just go out and sing "On a gagné!"

Duty-Free Ferney-Voltaire

So Ferney Voltaire is (almost) Duty-free. Here are the results of the élections municipales (the number of seats is provisional):

List Duty 591 votes - 25.53% - 4 seats
List Meylan 869 votes 37.54% - 20 seats
List Landrieu 216 votes 9.33% - 1 seat
List Faure 640 votes 27.65% - 4 seats

And just in case you are wondering how this is worked out, what happens is that the first list gets 50% of the seats as a matter of right and then the remaing seats are divided up proportionally with the winning list getting its proportion of those seats as well.
It's only confusing if you're used to another system and is done this way to ensure that winning lists have a chance of having a proper working majority.

Elections municipales Ferney Voltaire 16.03.2008

So here are the four lists trying to get elected to the mairie of Ferney Voltaire. Not quite two hours left to vote so we'll see what happens. The weather is pretty foul so that may have an effect on the turnout - positively maybe - good weather here means that people head for the mountains, the skiing and sunshine.
The France 3 website does a really good summary of the results in the larger communes throughout France. You can get to our area here and just in case you're wondering what party SE might be it stands - we think - for sans étiquette or no label.

Feminist theology: Luise Schottroff's take on the parable of the talents

Earlier in the week Katharina Vollmer-Mateus led the feminist theology group in a second evening on the parable of the talents. She offered us insights from Luise Schottroff's work The Parables of Jesus and showed how the hermeneutical choice you make can radically change the way you read the text.
As a result of being exposed to Schottroff's thinking and thorough scholarly research I shall certainly try to change the way I preach on the parable of the talents in the future.
She has been very involved in the project in Germany called the Bibel in gerechter Sprache. This translation project has involved German biblical scholars (including the wonderful Juergen Ebach about whom more some other time) in seeking to find "more just" or more inclusive translations. It has tried to deal with some of the inherent anti-semitism in Christian translations and also to tackle the way some translations make people (women, slaves, children) and their realities invisible. I'll do a longer post about it at a later date.
In her interpretation of the parable of the talents in Matthew 25 Schottroff takes as her hermeneutical starting point the idea that there is good justification for taking the part of the oppressed, the marginalised or the outsider; of letting the text speak for those people and of using as much social-historical research as possible into their situation to do this. There is a strong Jewish tradition of prophetic stories against the strong and powerful who abuse power and a good basis for finding similar themes of liberation and resistance in this parable.
There are also language choices to be made - Schottroff translates the word doulos in Greek as slave and not as it has been over the centuries as servant. These are not servants free to leave a master asking them to do the impossible, but slaves with no choices.
To help us understand the context of slaves 2000 years ago, Katharina gave us a French translation of some of Philo of Alexandria's writings about how slaves were used by masters to collect unjust taxes and the horrific public torture and humiliation they were subjected to. It was disturbing reading.
As a result of translation choices and social historical research, Schottroff puts forward the idea that the bad and wicked slave who doesn't do the master's bidding is actually truly doing the kingdom's work, by trying to put a stop to an unjust and corrupt taxation system and also the appalling treatment of slaves. He buries the treasure, tells the master exactly how he sees him when he returns and is thrown out to rot by his unjust master for not having made money by whatever means possible.
Schottroff also suggests that it helps to read the parable of the talents in the light of the parable of the last judgement that directly follows it in Matthew 25 “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
You can read an atheist appreciation of Schottroff's work on The Parables Jesus by clicking the link.
Another book I'm going to have to buy and read. Many thanks to Katharina for opening up this new liberation reading of the parable to us.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Camarada celebrating 25 years

Camarada, a Genevan training and drop-in centre for migrant women is celebrating its 25th anniversary this month.
The centre began teaching language skills using the Silent way method based on Caleb Gattegno's pedagogical methods.
Some of the women who use the centre have been interviewed and there is an online exhibition based on some of their life stories. It's called from speaking to writing (De l'oral à l'écrit).
A number of events are planned for the month- long aniversary, including a brunch tomorrow with a podium discussion on integration and some theatre.
Language is an essential part of integration, linking language learning to practical training in other areas has been one of Camarada's great strengths and the centre has won several awards over the years. Keeping the funding for it has been a struggle at times I'm sure. Yet ,these sorts of centres achieve the most when they are local long-term initiatives, so it's really good to be able to report on a success story.
You can listen to interviews with some of the women here.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Aux urnes citoyen(ne)s - word of the day quadrangulaire

Well we're off to vote again on Sunday and the extraordinary news is that all four lists from the first round will be up for election again. Normally in these circumstances at least one list would try to join with another (called fusionner) and then get concessions from the other side. This had supposedly been the agreement between Ferney pour Tous and Ferney Avenir but, after the poll, when push came to shove Fabienne Faure and Françoise Meylan couldn't come to an agreement. More surprisingly still J'aime Ferney have also not joined forces with Duty's Une Ambition Partagée so there really is everything still to play for and it's been quite a hectic week with meetings organised by each list every night.
In the end it may all depend on turnout and who manages to get their vote out and convince people to change sides. Tomorrow morning's market with each list canvassing opinion is set to be a noisy affair.
If you can bear to work your way through the puns in Alex Décotte's vitriolic prose you can read all about what's been going on in the rest of the Pays de Gex in Ferney Candide. And of course Ferney is still the centre of the universe politically - and this all because of a quadrangulaire - I think I'd translate that as a four-way fight.

Word of the day - Wortschatz

A Schatz is a treasure (Schatz can also mean "darling" as in my treasure)
Wort is word.
A Wortschatz is literally a word treasure or a treasure of words. It's not a dictionary but rather a vocabulary. Linguistically it's the German term that can be used for a thesaurus or book of synonyms.
I love the idea of a treasury of words, each one with a precious meaning to be used for just the right thing. I also like the idea of unlocking the treasury to try and find the right word.
When I was a child my mother would often talk about Palgrave's Golden Treasury which was not a thesaurus but a book of English poetry and lyrics. I suppose in a way it is a celebration of poetic vocabulary.
Aynyway, use your words carefully they're precious things.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Praying the Lord's prayer together is radical ecumenism

My colleague Simon Oxley preached a passionate sermon on Monday morning about the Lord's prayer. In it he gave that rarest of admissions by any of us about our convicitons - "I've changed my mind".
Over recent months several colleagues in the ecumenical centre have been having an ongoing conversation over morning coffee about how praying the Lord's prayer at the same time but in our different languages is an incredibly strong sign of the unity in diversity which the World Council of Churches stands for.
On Monday Simon made a strong plea that praying together words which say "Your kingdom come, your will be done" is a radical ecumenical act and ended his sermon by saying
"Saying the Lord's Prayer together, if we do so with the intention of and the openness for the radical transformation that God offers to us, is a foundation for the renewal of the ecumenical movement. It breaks us out of the controlling instincts for self-preservation, or even for self-aggrandisement, of the churches into the freedom to which God calls us. Praying for God’s kingdom to come is the most daring and dangerous thing we can do in our worship."

Keep praying.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Martin Luther rehabilitated?

A guest blogger writes:

So, The Times is reporting that Pope Benedict XVI is planning to rehabilitate Martin Luther. A Times beat-up, at first sight, with the only person quoted directly being Cardinal Kasper, and even then without it being clear in exactly what context the good German cardinal was pronouncing these words. The Vatican meanwhile has issued a denial of the story. At least though it has got the blogosphere going.
(PS: Philip Pullella on the Reuters FaithWorld blog has explained the genesis of the Times piece, which then went round the world.)

And yet, it is less than ten years to the 500th anniversary of Luther's 95 theses being nailed, so the story goes, to the door of the Wittenberg Schlosskirche. Back in 1983, at the celebrations in Leipzig of the 500th anniversary of the birth of Luther, the then president of the Secretariat for Christian Unity, Cardinal Willebrands, said the following:
... notwithstanding the contrasts that separate us, it is worthwhile to enter into an open and factual dialogue with Martin Luther. This is a difficult road, but a necessary one. We have to follow it, firstly in an endeavour to obtain a better insight into truth, and also out of love for those of our brothers and sisters who today seek to shape their Christian life in accordance with Luther's fundamental theological insights and convictions of faith; lastly and above all we have to follow it for the sake of the one holy Gospel of Jesus Christ and for the sake of His coming Kingdom. We have to proclaim Christ in all the untimeliness of this world, and we have to do this trusting in all the embracing force of the Holy Spirit and to the greater glory of God.
In 1985, when asked if the Catholic Church would lift the excommunication on Luther, Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) responded, "Luther's excommunication terminated with his death because judgement after death is reserved to God alone. Luther's excommunication does not have to be lifted; it has long ceased to exist." He added, however, "it is an entirely different matter when we ask if Luther's teachings still separate the churches and thus preclude joint communion." Ratzinger himself has in the past shown himself to be interested in a serious, if critical, dialogue with the thought of the Protestant Reformer, and has been credited with rescuing the 1999 Catholic-Lutheran Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, one of the central and contentious issues of Lutheran theology, in which the two sides declared that the condemnations of the past did not apply to the teaching on justification as set down in the document. In his "Principles of Catholic Theology", Ratzinger referred to research that concluded that the fundamental Lutheran confessional text, the Confessio Augustana, "was understood with inner conviction as a search for evangelical Catholicity--an effort to filter the seething discontent of the early reform movement in a way that would make it a Catholic reform".

Yet, looking towards the 2017 anniversary as a Lutheran-Catholic event is perhaps casting the net too narrowly. Luther was not, of course, the first or the last reformer, yet the events of 1517 are symbolic not only of the founding of a denomination but mark a massive break not only in Western Christianity but also in Western culture as a whole: literature, language, politics. economy. Yet it also extended beyond the West, and in the 16th century there were contacts between the Protestant reformation of the West and the Orthodox Church of the East, which was coming to terms with the sack of Constantinople 40 years before the birth of Luther (there was even a translation of the Confessio Augustana into Greek). The Reformers felt a certain kinship with the Orthodox since Rome considered both the Christian East and the Reformers to be heretics.

On the other hand, various anabaptist movements were themselves persecuted by Lutherans, while Lutherans and Calvinists pronounced mutual condemnations that were overcome formally only in 1973 in Europe with the Leuenberg Agreement. Walter Altmann, a Brazilian Lutheran who is moderator of the World Council of Churches, has recently spoken of the anniversary of 1517 serving as an ecumenical opportunity (translated press release here). The German political authorities have already started preparing for 2017, yet the churches worldwide seem not to have caught up (the Evangelical Church in Germany has nominated a "Beauftragter" ). Still, it's not too late for someone to take the initiative to start a process to use the 2017 anniversary for a new look at the Reformation from a genuinely ecumenical perspective - the legacy of the Reformation is too important to be left to Lutherans and Catholics alone!

Sad news of the death of Lukas Vischer

We heard early this morning of the death of Lukas Vischer.
The picture here is of him addressing the 75th anniversary of Faith and Order in Lausanne in 2002.
I'll add further information to this post as tributes arrive. His contribution to ecumenism has been quite extraordinary.
"The World Council of Churches and the ecumenical movement have lost an outstanding ecumenist, a man of vision and great passion for the future of life on earth and for a church visibly united in faithfulness to Christ's calling", said WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia in a tribute.
At a more personal level I shall miss him turning up in the library to talk about the local churches and his various projects. His ferocious intellect and amazing energy could be a bit intimidating but it has been an enormous privilege to know him.
Last year he organised a truly wonderful event in Geneva which brought together many of the migrant churches with the Swiss Protestant churches in an event called witnessing together. We had regional multilingual communion services and then set off on a colourful and noisy walk of witness for peace ending on the steps of the cathedral. It was quite extraordinary. The noise of the Kimbanguist band, the dancing, the artwork the sheer joy and depth of it was quite wonderful. I'm so sad I wasn't yet blogging at that point. I'll try and post some of the photos. I can still rememebr a retired missionary in his 80s coming up to me as we watched the women from the Congo dancing and saying "I think I saw a smile on Calvin's statue". It was as if this was an encounter we had all been waiting for.
Lukas used his position as a key person on the board of the John Knox Centre to bring all of these churches together, over months and years inviting the congregational leaders to the Centre on a regular basis for prayer and Bible study and then working towards this amazing project.
I've just spoken with our friend Jean-Jacques Bauswein who knew Lukas very well. He described that day as the crowning glory of Lukas' career. The sun shone and so many of the congregations Lukas had visited and persuaded came and joined in.
Each of those churches felt honoured that such a well-known and important person should take time to be with them, should want their contribution. He not only believed in and wrote and spoke about unity, but he really went out and tried to get people to do something for unity, to be more united - across linguistic, class and racial barriers.
What moves me as I think of him today is his outstanding intellect linked to a deep sense of service to the gospel and to unity. The humilty of visiting other Christian communities, finding the time, knowing that it's the personal touch that will count. I trust and hope it will have long lasting effects on ecumenism in the Genevan churches.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Aux urnes citoyen(ne)s - the Pays de Gex needs you

Well the second round of the municipal elections will take place on Sunday 16th and something surprising has happened. We all expected Ferney pour Tous to merge their list with Ferney Avenir, some in the Ferney avenir list say this had been the agreement for months. However, late last night it became clear that perhaps as a result of pressure from the maire of Divonne Etienne Blanc (boo hiss), Fabienne Faure was no longer prepared to join her list to the Ferney Avenir list.
Meanwhile it seems that Jaime Ferney will join with Pierre-Etienne Duty meaning that he could once more get elected, particularly if there is no movement between the other two lists.
And in case you're wondering about the maire of Divonne, he is currently president of the Communauté des Communes and if Duty or Faure don't get elected in Ferney then Blanc is likely to lose overall control there.
Confused ... hmmm I am too.
Anyway, last Sunday our household split its vote, next Sunday we won't and I too will vote for Ferney Avenir. If I'm honest I prefer straight and dirty party politics which I understand. These municipal elections seems a little feudal and internecine to me but probably I'm just having an ex-pat moment.
Who was it who said in politics it is your friends you need to fear rather than your enemies?
More from Ferney the hub of the universe soon!

Monday, 10 March 2008

St John of the Cross from Darkness to Light on Seven Weeks for Water

The two images reflect on Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well in John's gospel. One comes from China, the other is carved from olive wood in the Middle East.

My colleague Guillermo Kerber, originally from Uruguay, chose them for the meditation he has written which you can read on Seven Weeks for Water.

For those of us for whom access to clean water is easy it's sometimes difficult to understand quite how critical the right to water has become.

As a specialist in human rights Guillermo rightly points to the wide ranging personal and political dimensions of the water crisis and its potential to generate violence and conflict.

As a theologian he ends his reflection by pointing us to water as a symbol of God's never-ending love and encouraging us to read St John of the Cross.
Water also reminds us of the spiritual life and the basics of our faith. The 16th century Spanish mystic John of the Cross, for example, refers to water in many of his poems. Water, springs and wells are symbols in his poems of God who can be reached only by faith. Despite doubts, difficulties, conflicts, crises, darkness or night, water can be a reminder of the presence of a loving and caring God amongst us. One of St John of the Cross's poems begins: "For I know well the spring that flows and runs, although it is night".

My friend Colin Thompson is also a specialist on St John of the Cross and I recommend his book St John of the Cross: Songs in the Night (You can read a review here). Something with which to assuage some spiritual aridity during Lent and to chase away the darkness.

Please keep supporting water campaigns near where you are and further away. Go to the Ecumenical Water Network site for ideas about what to do

Because your questions have meaning...

It's French spiritual and religious book month this March.
Because your questions have meaning

"I'm looking for books which answer my questions ... about the meaning of life ... why I'm on this earth ... why..."

"Well here you'll also find what you're not looking for."

Answers available at your bookshop!

Sunday, 9 March 2008

First round results from Ferney Voltaire

So the results for the first round in Ferney are in and it looks very much as if we are heading for what's called a "triangulaire" with three lists again next week.
Today the four lists did as followed
Ferney Avenir 653 (30.39%)
Ferney pour Tous 640 (29.78%)
Ferney une ambition partagée 558 (26.7%)
J'aime Ferney 218
52% turnout - which is utterly brilliant compared with the UK for local elections but lower than the national average in France for local elections which is much higher.
So perhaps we will be "Duty free" by next Monday but tomorrow is going to be a dififcult day of negotiations - will the lists join together or keep on with hteir own programmes?

Word of the day for the elections:"être réélu dans un fauteuil"

We're watching news of the French election results and the phrase "être réélu dans un fauteuil" just made me laugh. It means - hoped to get re-elected without have to do much. Fauteuil is an armchair, so I suppose the idea is that you don't have to move much to get your list through.
Put that one through a computer translation and you'll get some very interesting results.

Anyway the news from Ferney is that the vote is not quite counted, Mr B. will be bringing the news directly from the count in a few moments - I hope.

Meanwhile news from Spain is that exit polls show the socialists may manage to get re-elected.

You may have gathered that this household loves an evening in with the election results. Lots of fun ahead. Helped by the fact that France 2's election programme is being put out by technicians on strike but who have decided to work for the election programme so long as their demands are read out regularly by the hosts!

Aux urnes citoyen(ne)s - waiting for the results

So we have done our civic duty.
In France you don't put a cross on a ballot but you take the lists from the table together with a small blue envelope which says République française on it and you then fold a copy of the list you're voting into the envelope and put this into the completely transparent ballot box. Before you do that you have to present your voting card and carte d'identité and then sign against your name.
It was only when I did this or the first time that I began to understand how votes in French elections are counted so quickly compared with in the UK.
The count takes place in public, maybe we'll go along later on this evening. However the important vote is next Sunday - always supposing Duty is not re-elected straight off!

Saturday, 8 March 2008

The prodigal son and drawing God at KT

The wooden sculpture represents the father welcoming home the lost son in the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15.11. I took the sculpture, which was made by the Diaconnesses de Reuilly, with me to KT today. Bernard, the minister, brought a copy of a drawing of the same scene by Rembrandt.
Before lunch we studied and tried to understand the parable of the lost son - including the tension between different meanings of the word "prodigality" - does it mean to be a spendthrift (like the son?) or does it mean to give and not to count the cost (like the father in responding to his son's request?).
Because my feminist theology group had studied this parable a few months ago with Lytta Basset, I dared to ask the young people if they didn't think there was perhaps someone missing from the family - namely a wife or mother. Perhaps she had died or gone away; certainly she didn't seem to be part of the life of the family, or able to influence anyone in it; maybe the menfolk were all shut down in their grief and so unable to communicate with one another?
Later it was very interesting that we all came up with really quite different ways of continuing the story of the parable when each of us wrote possible endings to the story - ranging from deep and real reconciliation between the brothers after a big row, to silence, slamming of doors and the older brother storming off to his bedroom, to a pretend reconciliation followed by a vicious stabbing - echoes of Cain and Abel.
After lunch we asked them to do a communal symbolic picture representing God - based in part on images of God we had developed from the parable. The rules were only one person could draw or paint at time, no comment to be made about what others draw and you can add to what others have already drawn but not obliterate it. My role was to see that the rules were obeyed and then to encourage them to talk about the picture and the process afterwards. We managed it in not quite complete silence as you can imagine.
It was moving to see how from tentative beginnings of a single curvy line on the paper, they gained in confidence and really added to what each one had drawn - sometimes following their own vision and ideas and finding space for that in the bigger picture, but often following on from the flow of what had just been drawn. I realise now that because we made it clear that they would each simply take their turn as it came around the table, this actually gave them more freedom and confidence and meant that those who felt more at home with drawing didn't dominate.
It was powerful but it was also fun. For a long time a whole corner of the paper remained blank then my colleague drew a large question mark in it and immediately the next person added three more dots to represent an unfinished sentence and the next person turned these into exclamation marks. Later the boy in the group who is Franco-Spanish put an upside down question mark within the original one - which of course is how question marks are printed in Spanish, but it perfectly represented ongoing questions within questions.
I was also amazed that very early on someone was willing to break with a flowing peace and love theme that was developing and draw a powerful triangle which then had an eye put into it, looking very much like something you might find over a Baroque altar - later it became a sort of desert island with a palm tree growing out of it. But these are secular, Protestant youngsters who didn't really know what I was talking about when I mentioned it at the end!
The rules said that I was not allowed to add anything, if I had been able to I would have added a rainbow, my favourite biblical symbol. But towards the end someone did add one, perfectly linking two key elements of the drawing, right in the centre and at the top of the picture. It just goes to show, leaders need to let go, wait and trust sometimes.

One of the things I really appreciate about all forms of work with children and young people in the French Reformed Church is that it is not about trying to transmit dogmatic truths but to offer biblical stories and belief in God as something that can help them interpret and make sense of life a little more. When I compare that with much of what I received at church when I was young there's a huge difference. It was hugely liberating to integrate theology into congregational teaching when I started working France.
Anyway we think we may start a KT blog for the parish which will be fun.

Between two shores for international women's day

The current issue of the UNESCO Courier uses International Women's Day to focus on women writers who are "between two shores".
The lead article is part of Doris Lessing's Nobel lecture and speaks about poverty in Zimbabwe where she was brought up. Spôjmai Zariâb's writing on exile is also very compelling and Maria Medrano's talking about bridge building through a poetry workshop in a women's prison in Argentina is fascinating.

So, happy international women's day to you all and get reading - the great thing about the UNESCO Courier is that you can read it in a variety of languages.

"British writer Doris Lessing returns to ... Zimbabwe, and denounces our jaded world. Franco-Ivorian author Véronique Tadjo explains how travels can morph into exile. Spôjmaï Zariâb tells the story of war torn Afghanistan, from her Paris vantage point. Michal Govrin, from Israel, reveals the impassioned dimension of an unending conflict. In the United States, Indian author Kiran Desai questions the fate of belonging to two cultures. Argentine poet María Medrano builds a bridge between the free world and incarceration. All are women between two shores. "

Friday, 7 March 2008

Roberta Rominger to be new United Reformed Church general secretary

Good news for international women's day tomorrow, the United Reformed Church has just announced that the Reverend Roberta Rominger will be its next General Secretary.
Congratulations Roberta! I'm really pleased and very proud of my denomination.

In the press release making the announcement Roberta said “I am passionate about the vision of a Church that is enthusiastically engaged with the world. I believe God speaks and acts in the world today. The Church’s life should reflect this God, who is committed to hope, justice and human flourishing.

“Among the members of the United Reformed Church, are many creative, inspiring and intellectually and spiritually alive people. It is a privilege to be called to lead them”.

Roberta Rominger trained for ministry in the USA, and was ordained in California, in the United Church of Christ. She came to Britain in 1985 and has been a minister in the United Reformed Church ever since, serving as Moderator of the Thames North Synod for the past ten years

Speak out and protect the world's languages

A Pillar of Cultural Diversity
I love this poster from UNESCO for the international year of of languages showing people using fingers, ears, eyes and lips to speak out and protect the world's many languages.

"Languages, with their complex implications for identity, communication, social integration, education and development, are of strategic importance for people and the planet. Yet, due to globalization processes, they are increasingly under threat, or disappearing altogether. When languages fade, so does the world’s rich tapestry of cultural diversity. Opportunities, traditions, memory, unique modes of thinking and expression – valuable resources for ensuring a better future are also lost."

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Women's World Day of Prayer

"God's wisdom provides new understanding" is the theme that the women of the beautiful cooperative republic of Guyana have chosen for this year's day of prayer.
The Day of Prayer is one of the oldest and most inclusive ecumenical initiatives around. You can read more about the history here. It takes place on the first Friday of March each year.
There are national committees for the day of prayer in many countries and across the world women come together for several months to learn about the country which has prepared the material for that year and to study the Bible texts and prepare the ecumenical service. Over the decades it's served as an important space for training and encouraging women in the churches.
The ecumenical centre in Geneva will host an ecumenical service at 12.30 for the English speaking congregations of the city and there will be many French-speaking services taking place throughout the canton and over in France.

Perpetual reality?

I'm taking morning prayers this morning and latish last night decided I would try and translate Jan Albert Roetman's short reflection for Lent from the website of the French Reformed Church. The image of the hour glass and the narrow passage of time particularly struck me.
However, I'm a translator, I should know that a short text which speaks powerfully in one language won't necessarily be easy to render into another language. Sometimes something that seems packed with meaning seems flat or overly pretentious when rendered into English.
And then of course there's the context. Jan Albert's meditation was obviously triggered by the ubiquitous figure of Nicholas Sarkozy whose continual presence in the French media has all but exhausted even the most sycophantic journalists. You can read the original French here and my rather free and perhaps not perfect English version below.
Jan Albert comes originally from the Netherlands and is currently the ERF's regional president in the North and Normandy. A meditation written in French by a Dutch man, translated into English and used for morning prayer in Switzerland - is this globalisation?
Perpetual reality?
New technologies, the media, some politicians and even the head of state make us believe that it is now possible to live in a kind of perpetual reality. The rupture with the past and the incessant reliance on the new, fills up and inflates the present to the very limits of explosion and to the detriment of the perseverance of waiting.

There's no longer any need to sleep, nor to wait to see what will happen. Everything can be lived in the here and now, in perpetual motion, in an infinite present … Our image of time no longer resembles an hour glass but an egg, with the middle inflated almost to bursting and two narrow extremities representing the past and the future.

And yet! Lent pushes us to re-read the stories of Christ's passion, to remember them in such a way as to make a pledge for the future. All the stories of the Bible, of the Old and New Testaments are readings and re-readings of a human story seen as a story of being accompanied by God, seeking always to be relevant, in order to place us ever more under the sign of promise.

The present is always dependant on a tradition of interpretation which makes the biblical story and texts come alive. So the gospel message is interpreted by those who bear witness to the words and actions of Christ. And it is precisely this interpretation, this re-reading, which is already present within the biblical texts, which places us day after day before the enduring promise of the God of the Bible, "I am with you always, to the end of the age."

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

So what is it translators do all day?

Well to put it bluntly they look for words, they search for syntax, battle with grammar and tackle tenses. They open dictionaries and try to understand; most of all they try to render the source language into their own language in as credible and true a way as possible. Sometimes they can do this in a neat and tidy fashion, sometimes they have to dredge up things from the recesses of their memory or conciousness. Of course these days Google can help alot.
My close colleague Rosemarie said today how pleased she was to have been able to find a phrase in German that was just right for a rather poetic text we received this week, each phrase in English began "It's time to..." and she finally came up with the idea of using words similar to the opening phrase of a German song sung at a rally against the war in Iraq. Computers can't do that, not until they develop consciousness and watch the nightly news.
One thing that all translators know is that your translation will be better if you've got time to sleep on it and read it through one last time the next day, but deadlines don't always allow for that.
The other thing translators know is that once you've gone through all this hard labour it's quite likely that someone will send your text back claiming the word you struggled over for ages is wrong or circling the one mistake you made in red. Ah well, only those who produce nothing never make mistakes.
My own big bugbear is not being sure whether I actually write English anymore, rather than franglais. Rosemarie quoted her former translation professor to me in my first week in this job "Your first foreign language is always your mother tongue."
When I'm looking for an English word I can sometimes find a French or German one but not an English one - it's a bit like the problem with washing socks, lots of singles no pairs!
Meanwhile the writer and editor I share my bed with can often be heard tutting over my efforts at translation saying none too patiently "that's not English".
Ah well translating is a humble profession and we're learning new words every day, the problem is we're not always sure where we've put them ... Now what was it I wanted to say, where did that word go?

"Discerning the Body" - reflections by Theodore Gill

I've just posted a reflection by my colleague Theo Gill from morning prayer today. I was still stuck in Geneva motor show traffic when prayers took place today (no doubt I will rant about that at some later date on my blog!). Fortunately, and unlike me, Theo writes what he is going to say so we can all share at least in the written word, though we unfortunately miss on his powerful delivery. I really must start recording chapel so we can have some podcasts - however, I do have a day job to consider so perhaps I am already getting too ambitious. It might be quite fun though.

Anyway Theo gave a passionate defence of and plea for unity around the one table - a plea to discern the body.

"Reading the letters of Paul, anachronistically speaking, is often like listening to one side of a telephone conversation. One has to imagine what is being said at the other end of the line. There are moments in early passages of this epistle when we imagine that all is not well at the Corinthian church, but as we reach the section that we know as chapter 11 there is no longer room for doubt. Paul begins to berate the Christians of Corinth for their unabashed disunity, their lack of hospitality – much less charity, their gluttony and drunkenness at the table of the Lord and – most of all – their failure to “discern the body” there."

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

An evening of feminist theology with bare-foot theologian Anne Coidan

I've just come back from a wonderful evening with the feminist theology group. This evening my friend and colleague from the Genevan Protestant Church Anne Coidan led us in the first of two evenings on the parable of the talents (Matthew 25.14-30).
Anne often describes herself as a bare-foot theologian - a theologian without pretensions. She's also a very talented artist in patchwork as the photo of one of her prize-winning quilts shows.
This evening she introduced us to understandings gleaned from the French psychoanalyst Marie Balmary's reading of the parable of the talents in her book "Abel, ou la traversée d'Eden". Although other books by Marie Balmary have been translated into English, this one doesn't seem to have been - perhaps because there is less interest in parts of the anglophone world in Freud rather than in Jung.
So have you buried your treasures and talents in the middle of the field because you have internalised the idea of a mean, tough master? A God who reaps where s/he doesn't sow? What was fascinating this evening was the new way this difficult parable spoke to us as we studied it in terms of projection and transference.
God does not want to endow us with talents or responsibilities that will crush us and that we will want to bury, hide and try to forget about because we are frightened. Somehow it is in appropriating the gifts God freely and fully gives to us in complete trust that we can bear fruit and blossom.
That is a very potted, late night version of a whole evening's work. Over the next few days I'll try to post Anne's reflections to the documents section and maybe translate some of the key parts into English.