Monday, 30 June 2008

Signs of the kingdom in doodles and cartoons

The doodle or cartoon is by Andre Jordan from his book "If you're happy and you know it".
I love how hope could just slip through your fingers here in the picture, somehow although hope floats above us and causes us to look up from our lives it needs us holding on to it to remain earthed and truly hopeful.
Don't let go.
"Tenemos Esperanza" was the theme of our prayers this morning - hold on to hope.
This doodle helps me do that, hope is fragile and easily lost but there are many, many people out there in terrible situation who continue to hold on to that line of hope.
As we prayed for Chile, Peru and Bolivia this week we also sang Tenemos Esperanza and used this final affirmation from the beatitudes, saying the biblical parts in Spanish and the responses in English:

Blessed are the poor…
Not the penniless, but those whose hearts are free.
Blessed are those who mourn…
Not those who whimper but those who raise their voices.
Blessed are the meek …
Not the soft but those who are patient and tolerant.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice …
Not those who whine but those who struggle.
Blessed are the merciful …
Not those who forget but those who forgive.
Blessed are the pure in heart …
Not those who act like angels but those whose life is transparent.
Blessed are the peace-makers …
Not those who shun conflict but those who face it squarely.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for justice …
Not because they suffer but because they love.

(copyright P. Jacob, Chile, from Wisdom is Calling pp.263-264 ed G Duncan)

Prayers here and sermonette here btw.

Managing change and transformation - from Desert Island discs to new church constitutions

I've been thinking alot since the most recent weekend of my course in Rome about the issues around managing change and transformation. The language of transformation seems to be ever-present in current church and theological talk. Theologically the emphasis seems to be on the power of the gospel to transform society - yet we seem so reticent to do much more than just take the language of transformation into our own ecclesial structures.
Listening to Ara Darzi talking about how he had to work to change the culture of surgery in the British National Health Service in order to get acceptance of keyhole surgery, I realised what a huge task bringing about change is. Speaking on Desert Island Discs, Darzi, who is a surgeon and now government health minister in the House of Lords, said that up until the advent of keyhole surgery surgeons would pride themselves on being able to make the biggest cut possible. Trying to change that culture, those vested interests - all the training and skills aquired up until then called into question and needing to be revised. Darzi is also proposing controversial changes to the structure of the British NHS this week for its 60th birthday.

So are we really willing to be agents of transformation in the world and within our own structures or do we just talk about transformation while expecting the status quo to be maintained? Sometimes I feel that in the churches we point to the transformation societies need to make without seeing the desperate need for change at home.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Kingdom signs - prayer vigils and uncomfortable pews

Watch and pray
The local ACAT group set out candles to symbolise the bars of a prison cell as we met on Saturday night to pray for prisoners of conscience and victims of torture. This simple creativity helped focus our prayers especially given how uncomfortable the pews were after 4 hours!
The way each member of the group had prepared a prayer or a situation to focus on during the vigil spoke to me deeply of how the kingdom brings together the contribution of all and offers something that is more than the sum of all the parts. It was good to feel part of a prayer vigil taking place throughout France and to know that our tiny local group was part of something much bigger.
Sustained time for silence and prayer at the end of a very busy and emotional week was a real gift and spoke to me about the kingdom not being about continual striving but also about sabbath values of rest and recreation.

Signs of the kingdom - Mayenziwe

For 10 days we have been singing Mayenziwe 'ntando yakho as a response at our lunchtime prayers of lamentation for Zimbabwe in the chapel at work. The three words of the song simply mean "your will be done" but late in the week a colleague from Malawi who like me was humming the song at the salad bar mentioned that the the word 'ntando is used to translate both will and love - "Your love be done".
This revealed something to me about the mystery of what God wants, what God wills, for the world and for each individual. God's will is completely about love. When I pray for the kingdom it is actually prayer for God's love to abound.

son et lumière in Ferney Voltaire

So the Fête à Voltaire drew to a close with a brilliant firework display and son et lumière. At one point it loked as if the town hall was exploding which was rather fun - it was just our council tax exploding probably. It was a wonderful event and as I was walking back from the prayer vigil it was great to wander past older people finishing off drinks and conversations while a group of young people nearby practised scateboarding and another group put the finishing touches to a great grafitti work of art. France is good at municipal events and rather than carping about the cost people just get out there and enjoy it, it was a brilliant multi culturual, inter- generational festival. And there's more to come on Bastile day, July 14th.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

C'est la fête à Voltaire!

The Saturday market has moved this morning to the car park, meanwhile the centre of Ferney has become a series of stages for the various theatre performances that will go on at this evening fête à Voltaire. Apart from the theatre there will also be lots of food and cultural stands. And amazingly it's not raining!
This is the first Fête à Voltaire I shall experience since Ferney went "Duty-free" in the last municipal elections. There will also be some interesting theatre going on at the Châtelard, one of Voltaire's original cultural centres here in Ferney.
Anyway the focus for this year's fête is Voltaire moving to Ferney 250 years ago. You can read more about it here and even more amazing than the lack of rain is the fact that special public transport has been laid on. More information from the Mairie's official site - go on come to Ferney but leave your car at home, you can download the programme there as well.

Congratulations Dr B!

On Thursday Stephen officially received his doctorate from the University of Reading and we managed to get all the way there and back by train in less than 48 hours. It was fun to be involved in something so very British as a robed degree ceremony with strawberries and cream on the university lawn. It was however a little disconcerting to have my husband wandering around looking like Henry VIII all day.

Anyway, congratulations Dr B.

Friday, 27 June 2008

La nuit des veilleurs - praying for victims of torture and human rights abuses

The night of 28-29 June is "la nuit des veilleurs" for ACAT groups in France. ACAT is Christian Action Against Torture and the prayer vigil takes place each year on the Saturday following June 26th, which was the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.
Christians of all confessions are invited to pray throughout the night "Pour une nuit où la prière se fait cri et louange, accompagne les actions et les relaie jusqu'au coeur de Dieu" - For a night on which the cry and praise of prayer becomes one with action, bringing them before God. In Ferney Voltaire tomorrow evening my colleague Guillermo Kerber from Uruguay will speak on Prayer and Human Rights before we begin the prayer vigil proper.
In a moment of complete unreality I signed up for the hours between midnight and 2am - that was before I realised how tired I'd feel after travelling by train to and from the UK in 48 hours!
Anyway wherever you are please take some time to remember and pray for prisoners of conscience and victims of torture.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Is paracetamol a sign of the Kingdom?

Three times a week I inject a horribly expensive drug called interferon b. When I first started taking it the cost of the drug was a lot more than my then monthly salary. Since then the cost of the drug has come down - and my monthly salary has also increased. However, I have never had to pay for my drugs because I live in a country with excellent access to care and medicines and I have good insurance.
The drug keeps me well and the paracetamol keeps me sane by calming the side effects of the interferon b (crazy raving flu-like symptoms at about 3am). Simple pain and fever relief. Often in the mornings I have paracetemol to thanks for a relatively good night's sleep. I give thanks to God for that and for the privilege of access to good medical care. I know (sort of) that I am worth it. But I believe passionately that all God's children should have equal access to the care and treatment they need. So I give thanks also for the work of the Ecumenical Pharmaceutical Network in all it tries to do for God's kingdom.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Compromise or schism ahead for Orthodox Anglicans?

So will the hardline Anglicans really break away or are they, as Tom Heneghan's blog suggests, actually more likely to stay in some way within the world Anglican communion and not leave to form a new church. I suppose we will all wait and see what happens at the meeting in Jerusalem and then at the Lambeth Conference in Canterbury.
I haven't yet read the 94 page booklet which sets out GAFCON's vision of the "pilgimage to an Anglican future". I'm sure I ought to read it but I find it hard to get over-excited about these issues which seem a long way from being gospel good news for either the world or the church. It's hard to see how unity can be maintained for the communion.

Anyway here's an extract from the Faith World blog, the Anglican communion is the summer's big church story.

Over at The Lead, Jim Naughton, spokesman for the Episcopal diocese of Washington, D.C., had an interesting take on why this goes on and on:
“Whether there will actually be schism is an open question, but at least one factor mitigates against it: as soon as schism is declared, the media will loose interest in the Anglican Churches of Nigeria and Uganda, and their small, but influential group of followers in the United States. (How much had you read about these Churches before the consecration of Gene Robinson?) At that point, these churches will no longer be useful to the donors who have made GAFCON possible, and the money will be reallocated to other fronts in the culture wars. It is in the interest of Akinola, Orombi, Minns, Sugden, etc. to sustain the Communion in a state of near-schism for as long as possible, and then, at some point, find a way short of schism to declare victory.”

Meanwhile our friend Simon Barrow has a new and thoughtful book out on the subject, pictured above, which will make for much more edifying reading than the GAFCON booklet on the issues. Here's some further information from the press release:

Anglican wrangling about sexuality and authority in the church is missing the big picture about how the relationship between religion and society is changing, says a new book from the think tank Ekklesia to be published next week.

Christians need to be beacons of hope, not signs of decay, it argues, suggesting that the 'conservative versus liberal' stereotype disguises a deeper tension between establishment religion and the Christian message of radical transformation.

With a preface by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who declares, "in God's family, there are no outsiders, no enemies", Fear or Freedom? Why a warring church must change, is edited by Ekklesia co- director Simon Barrow.

The book contains essays by clergy, a peace activist, an equalities adviser and two New Testament professors. It is aimed at substantially challenging the argument that will take place at the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops in July.

Football, women and Justice

As Euro 2008 moves to the semi finals remember its not all about football ... sadly.

Here is the very powerful video from the campaign to stop the trafficking of women and children.

With thanks to SpinDoktor for the html code for the above.

Words, sounds and distant rumblings of the kingdom

I heard sounds of the kingdom at lunchtime in the chapel. Like Elijah's "still small voice of calm" this was not a great noise, it was the gentle but persistent sound of names being written on paper with a marker pen. It was the sound of peoples knees clicking as they knelt to write.
Persistence, humility, remembering so as to prepare a better future.
And I thought of these words by Clement Attlee which strangely I first came across in French
"Aux moments décisifs de l’histoire, les mots sont des actes." ~ At decisive moments in history, words are also acts.
(interestingly I cannot find the original English!)

So I hoped that our words, songs and prayers were also acts. And I thank God that those words of Britain's first Labour prime minister were translated into French and came to my mind today, offering me hope that it is in some way all worthwhile and meaningful.
Blessed are those who draft statements and write press releases and scribble names and translate quotes and graffiti prayers - these too are signs of the kingdom.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

The international community must intervene to stop the violence.

You can read ENI's story on the call by the general secretary of Zimbabwe's Student Christian Movement Prosper Munatsi for more international peace monitors in Zimbabwe.

STOP PRESS you can find a link here to a further interview with Prosper and a recording of part of the interview.

You can also find the link here to the call by the WCC and WSCF for greater international efforts to resolve the crisis in Zimbabwe and for "urgent attention to the humanitarian needs of the people of Zimbabwe, their freedom to exercise religion, the destabilization of the political situation and the need to end human rights abuses".
And this from the ENI story:
"The people of Zimbabwe have tried everything in their power democratically and peaceably in a non-violent way, and they have exhausted all the channels," said Munatsi, who was in Geneva to brief the World Student Christian Federation, of which the SCMZ is a part. "We believe the international community must intervene to stop this violence and madness, and the war that has been waged against the innocent and defenceless people of Zimbabwe," added Munatsi, whom Zimbabwean police detained earlier in June, when they raided the Ecumenical Centre in Harare, which houses the offices of the SCMZ and other church groups.
Photo of Prosper Munatsi WCC/Juan Michel

The jigsaw of putting the pieces of the signs of the kingdom together

Weekly reflection on looking for signs of the kingdom
Doing blog posts specifically from the perspective of signs of the kingdom is a joy and a challenge. I don't always believe in a personal God speaking to me. My focus tends to be outwards rather than inwards and I'm not always comfortable about sharing my deep feelings and angst. Focusing on signs, tremors and flutters of what God might desire for me and for this beautiful world seems to be helping me feel my feelings a little better, it helps me hope for myself and for the world, and seems to be teaching me that fragile, transforming grace may be possible (even for me!). It also helps me look at things a bit differently. At the moment it seems to be taking me more deeply into my feelings of guilt, making me realise I don't cope well with my self-loathing and disgust. I am not easy clay for God to mould and yet I can sense God's fingertips trying to tease and touch me, and the world around me and well beyond me with love, with grace, with blessing, with justice ... So perhaps I need to allow myself to be touched. I rationalise and craft sentences more easily than I talk about deep feelings, perhaps because I am eaasily moved.
Christ calls me to bear witness, to speak of my faith and also to live in such a way that being a disciple of Jesus might be an attractive option ... and that's quite a tall order. Perhaps looking for signs of the kingdom is showing me that this is not a burden I bear alone but that God and others are also walking the same path.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Zimbabwe and the wisdom of Solomon

Today and yesterday listening to Morgan Tsvangirai withdrawing the MDC from the elections I've been thinking of the biblical story of Solomon's wisdom.
In the story two women fight over the possession of a baby. Which one was the parent? Drawing his sword, Solomon threatened to cut the baby in two, with half going to each woman. The true mother quickly foreswore the child, and the wise Solomon gave the baby to her.
I can see that Tsvangirai has sought to make what he feels is the right decision for the country. Listening to so many reports today, speaking with Zimbabwean colleagues at work I have got some sense of why this was the only option given the ever-rising tide of violence. The frustration and pain are palpable. The courage of those travelling back to Zimbabwe later this week is humbling.
What can, what will the international so-called "community" do?
Are we really so helpless?
There is news of Eric Matinenga here. It is both heartening and deeply disturbing. There is news of one atrocity here.
Meanwhile Mugabe seems to believe only God can remove him. Perhaps prayer is the only answer ...

Blood not paint ...

They held up a stone.
I said, "Stone."
Smiling they said, "Stone."

They showed me a tree.
I said, "Tree."
Smiling they said, "Tree."

They shed a man's blood.
I said, "Blood."
Smiling they said, "Paint."

They shed a man's blood.
I said, "Blood."
Smiling they said, "Paint."

copyright (c) Dannie Abse, Adapted from the Hebrew of Amir Gilboa, 1982

Signs of the kingdom in sabbath and tidiness

A quiet day of sunshine and domesticity has given me time to think, ponder and feel. I even looked at the wonderful book of Chagall's paintings a friend recently gave me.
I'm very untalented at tidiness but today my office is tidy; the floor has a tendency to become an opencast piling/filing sytem. It's been good to throw things away, to recognise time moving on and to be able to get to my desk without risking breaking my neck. Wading through so much paper and dust triggered thoughts about the work of the Holy Spirit being to breathe order but also to disturb. My soul longs both for just order and soaring, dancing, disturbing music. That longing is perhaps a glimpse of the kingdom.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Zimbabwe update ...

Several members of the Women of Zimbabwe Arise group are due to go on trial tomorrow. Please continue to support Zimbabweans with your prayers throughout the coming weeks. You can send messages of support to their website.

The tears of the translator

Sometimes it really is worth tidying up - you find treasures in the piles of stuff on the floor which you'd half forgotten about. So today after tidying my office I came across Michel Orcel's Les Larmes du traducteur - The translator's tears.
A book I haven't yet properly started reading let alone finished but that hasn't stopped me using its wonderful title for sermons - we clergy are just magpies really!
It is a great metaphor for what it can be like to translate, to cope with the grief of the loss sometimes between one language and another. The tears can also be tears of joy at finding something that "works", that is right; but the tears can also be of frustration and fatigue - translation can be hard labour.
But here is the wonderful origin of Orcel's book.
In October 1999 he arrives in Marrakech, Marocco, to translate from Italian into French what he describes as "an embarassing and paradoxical work". The work is called La Jérusalem Libérée by Torquato Tasso, it sings the praises of the deliverance of Jerusalem by the Crusaders. Le Tasse took 15 years to write it and 20 years unfelicitously ammending the original.
Orcel, who is a writer, translator and psychoanalyst, describes his own book as a "hybrid" and as "une expérience de 'translation'". I suppose that you could almost translate "translation" in this context as "displacement" or perhaps more "being taken to a new place" - being translated into another dimension.
The book is a journal of his time in Marocco, of the people and atmosphere of that place, and of his struggles to translate, to find the right word. And he consciously chooses to translate epic poetry about the Christian conquest of Jerusalem in an Islamic country. It is a delight and the perfect book for reading on the bus. However much as I shall continue to enjoy reading it, I am glad for the moment not to be struggling with a translation of it into English, fun as that might be one day.
"Les musulmans nomment Jérusalem Al-Qods. C'est la même ville. Ce n'est pas le même lieu de l'esprit. Si ce livre témoigne malgré lui de quelque chose, c'est de cette indétermination des signes qui fait à la fois notre désespoir et la beauté d'un monde qui s'effrite dans l'uniformité."
Rather than sit here weeping about how to get that fiendishly difficult last sentence into English I'm going to cook supper and have a glass of cold white wine.

Signs of the kingdom - music and dissonance

A day of music and sunshine all around for the fête de la musique in Ferney Voltaire.
Sorting through papers from my past and throwing forests of paper away, I've been wondering about belonging and identity.
Somehow "belonging" is a sign of the kingdom, feeling totally part of things helps me glimpse some of the values of true community. But watching a programme about the history of modern Britain, I realised that despite glimpsing the wonderful harmony of belonging often in my everyday life, I also live with dissonance or disconnect. Somehow I think that this disconnect is also a sign of the kingdom, a way into understanding that God is both wholely involved and completely other, requiring that I live life fully but not throw away my critical faculties. Our cultures are to be celebrated and enjoyed but also to be transformed, perhaps living between different cultures I need to be more aware of these paradoxical signs of the kingdom. So on the fête de la musique I've been thinking about discord as well as harmony - both can be gifts from God, both require discernment.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Pray for Zimbabwe

Please continue to pray for Zimbabwe. VOA has an interview with Elenora Giddings Ivory, the WCC's director for Public Witness, Addressing Peace and Affirming Justice, about praying for Zimbabwe:

Listen ¦ Download

She was asked about why the day of prayer for Zimbabwe was called.

"Churches are always reminded to use prayer during times of turmoil and conflict. We want to call on God to help guide us through these difficult situations. So bringing all the churches in the world as much as possible together to pray for the situation so the calm can prevail. It also helps those on the ground to know that they are not alone, that there are others who are thinking about them during this time," she says.

But what can prayer do that mediation and political pressure have been unable to do? Giddings Ivory says, "We're sometimes amazed even in our own family situation when we take the time to say something out loud in prayer or in conversation. How it makes it more concrete and realistic. It also helps to reflect back to ourselves what we may want to happen. It helps us to move forward to do that. And we, those of us who believe that there is a God, who controls everything…are calling on God to help control the minds and thinking and actions of those who are participating in this election process."

Asked whether a day of prayer is getting churches involved in politics, she says, "Jesus was involved in politics. He talked to politicians and tax collectors. And so we're following the examples of Jesus. And we should not think of any institution or processes that are beyond our own understanding of where God is in the world."

The general secretary of the World Council of Churches, Rev. Samuel Kobia, is quoted as saying, "It is impossible to overstate the importance of this election, its fairness, its outcome and its aftermath." Giddings Ivory says the council has taken an official position on democratic reforms.

"The World Council of Churches and its governing body…approved a statement (in February) on the democratic electoral processes. It referred to the United Nations Millennium Declaration that commits the nations of the world to promote democracy and strengthen the rule of law, as well as respect for all internationally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms. So the World Council of Churches and its member denominations are celebrating the fact that more nations around the world are embracing democracy in order to bring about human rights and freedoms for all people who may live within a particular country and wanting to protect that as much as possible."

Kingdom signs - friendship and tenacity

Come to worship
not out of habit

not out of duty
not because your name is on a rota
not because you will earn points in heaven.

Come to worship
because you love God
because you love yourself

because you love God’s world
because you love God’s people.
We come to celebrate the living God
made present in us and among us.

© Clare McBeath, U.K.

Friday - friendship and tenacity
I give thanks for being ministered to by others. My friend Olive, whose birthday I forgot, generously suggested we visit another friend I hadn't seen in over six years for her birthday in the evening. It was fun and crazy and lovely, and spoke to me of the pure grace of giving one another time. I'm not always a very good friend - letting work overtake my personal life. I give thanks that people make time for me and teach me at last to make time for others, for myself and for God.

At our prayers of lamentation for reconciliation and justice in Zimbabwe I found myself profoundly moved by the witness of the Zimbabweans we have met this week. Their cheerfulness and tenacity in the face of returning home to possible arrest and worse was a lesson in humility to someone as angstridden about faith and life as I often am. This spirit of resistance is a kingdom sign, it is not proud but it keeps on going, believing in what is right and seeking to follow that path.

Friday, 20 June 2008

World Refugee Day

Today June 20th is World Refugee Day, it will go unnoticed by the majority of the world ... Many are running for their lives on this day or dying on this day. But whether it is noticed or not today stands as one of the most important days of the year. It is a day of respect and remembrance for the most vulnerable people in the world - Angelina Jolie, Goodwill Ambassador, UNHCR.
Time wherever you may live to find out how you can help refugees and people who work with them.

The City of God and the challenge for Lula

My colleague Hannelore Schmid is so much more than the administrative support staff person in the WCC worship office. She's a talented linguist and also knows how to combine Lutheran rigour with Quaker reflection and social commitment. This morning as we come to the end of a week when the ecumenical prayer cycle encourages us to pray for Brazil she prepared a reflective morning prayer based on Revelation 21.
In a short meditation she reflected on the 2002 film the City of God which charts the story of people growing up in one of Brazil's huge cities, ending with this quote from Heidi Cerneka who works with female prisoners in the city of Sao Paulo:
“Laws against torture, domestic violence and political impunity must be applied. As a model of citizenship, the police forces, both military and civil, must be held accountable and corruption and violence within the police forces must be eradicated. Clearly, more training, more ongoing support and continuing education are a means to this end. Only then, will they earn the trust of the general population. Finally, making the education and formation of today's children a first priority will open the possibility of a different future for them ... of a different future for all of society.”

Kingdom signs

So Steve Taylor whose idea this is set these guidelines:
"I am simply asking you to be willing to
a) look for the Kingdom in your life
b) write a paragraph 5 days in 7
c) reflect on those 5 days once a week
d) make that public

Why do this? I suspect that many people lack confidence in looking for God. I suspect that the more we do it, and the more we see examples of others doing it, the better we will get. I suspect that watching other people, is a great way to learn."

Thursday - Sunshine, uncertainty and money
I felt happy this morning: in the car listening to my husband chatting excitedly about the downturn in global capitalism and how economic models from the 1970s are making their way back into the argument; going past the Swiss cows with the wonderful reassuring ringing bells round their necks; looking at mountains in the far off morning haze; drinking in the sunshine and being able to "be" in the beautiful chapel while someone else led prayers. I was more attentive this morning to the play of the light through the stained glass and felt blessed to be able to start my day in such a beautiful place.
At lunchtime a song sung in lamentation for Zimbabwe lifted my spirits. I also realised I try to contain and absorb alot of conflict, I need to find a way of offering this to God - perhaps that just means recognising that the Kingdom is not an easy process - Blessed are you when ... - but I have experienced how hard this can be at a personal level in recent weeks. Somewhere along the line we all desire ease as well as stress in life - are both part of the kingdom?
Interprettng for the pension board in the afternoon I wondered about how we hold together sound financial management with kingdom values, perhaps something that goes beyond ethical investment. I thought about the Zimbabwean lawyer who had taken a billion Zim dollars out of his pocket yesterday and said it would be just enough to buy an egg with. So to get our pension fund back to good health, following the chaos of the non self-regulating global markets an extra 1% of our salaries will go into the fund. What would 1% of my salary buy for folk in Zimbabwe's rural areas today?
And money has been the issue tonight as well, as we try to think about paying off the mortgage. Ah what it is to be fiscally responsible - is that a kingdom value? Hmm ... I think not.
I can't help thinking about the Gospel parable of the rich man who amassed a fortune and then died.

You can follow the other kingdom bloggers and Steve's instructions:
Regina is journaling here;
Phil is journaling here;
Judy is journaling here; Viv is journaling here; and outside Opawa, outside New Zealand, Eleanor is journaling here.
... anyone is welcome to join them, introduction here, instructions here and here.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Fete de la musique à Ferney Voltaire

One of the brilliant things about France in June is the Fête de la musique, it's an amazing happening taking place across the whole country and going on all night. Not much sleep is had on the third Friday and Saturday of June. It was instituted in 1982 by Jack Lang, François Mittérand's ministre de la culture. It was so successful that neighbouring countries soon copied it - so it's a big thing in Geneva too and the poster here is from Lausanne.
Anyway if you fancy going to a free concert this weekend here's the programme for Saturday in Ferney Voltaire, centre of the known universe. I have to admit to being quite happy to no longer be living in the manse for the fête de la musique, the open stage just opposite would not always attract the best quality acts - and at 3.00am when you're trying to sleep nothing sounds so great as to warant the disturbance. (Oh dear I do sound sad old and boring don't I!)
Next weekend we have the fête à Voltaire with music and theatre but more of that later.

Une fête de la musique aux couleurs du monde!

-10h-12h, statue du patriarche: animation sur le marché par Gilles Greggio(violon)

-10h30, cour de la maison Fusier: concert des orchestres à cordes du conservatoire sous la direction de Jean Marc Binet

-12h,maison Fusier: concert de la classe de saxophone du conservatoire sous la direction de Véronique Couturier

12h-13h30, Grand'rue: EJD Orchestra(latin jazz, ensemble de 12 musiciens)

-17h-18h, Temple, choeur norvégien de Genève


-18h-18h30:chant choral de l'Ecole Florian

-18h30-19h30:Juan Ignatio Serrano (guitare solo Argentine)

-19h30-20h30: Milkmash (reggae)

-20h30-21h30:Walks on fire(rock)

-21h30-22h30: majong (ska)

-22h30-23h30, Grand'rue: Mariana Correia (fado)

Place de la Comédie

-19h-20h30: Sinti Swing (jazz manouche)

-20h30-21h30: Philippe Ekeke (musique du monde)

-21h30-22h30: Coconut's Business (raga)

-22h30-23h30 :Purple eyes (funk)

-23h30-0h30:Crappy Stuff (rock alternatif)

EATWOT declaration

The spendidly named EATWOT Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians, have issued a statement in favour of the freedom of theological expression following Vatican threats to remove Father José Maria Vigil from his congregation. I've posted it to the documents section which you can access here.

Bread not stone for Zimbabwe

You can find the liturgy for our midday prayers of lamentation for peace, justice and reconciliation here. I really encourage you to try to sing the simple response "Mayenziwe" that you can find on the link with the music. It is a haunting and powerful melody and the harmonies are beautiful too. It gave both depth and lift to our prayers for Zimbabwe at lunchtime today. The word ntando can apparently mean both "will" and "love" - God your will be done, God your love be done.

The Kingdom blog

Wednesday - earrings, flip-flops and sunshine
So I've decided to try this blogging on signs of the kingdom I posted about yesterday. I'll probably post a day late and others will just have to cope with the signs of the kingdom which I may perceive being buried in the middle of my messy ongoing blog.
Today I had a surprise coffee (well tea in my case) with my twice risen from the dead friend Heather. She's an international health care development worker but spent 3 months in hospital over Christmas and New Year having her gall bladder and 90% of her pancreas removed. She's also a survivor of breast cancer. We had a wonderful conversation about how to challenge the churches to take their role in health care seriously in the developing world and she told me about her IBIG idea to try to offer an alternative and sustainable model of health care management. More about that at a later date in the journal we we meeting to draw up an outline for. The sign of the kingdom for me was Heather's extraordinary knowledge, energy and commitment, her desire to want to help transform things for the better. The symbol of all of that for me were her beautiful earrings which danced in the sunlight and seemd to reflect all that intelligence and commitment. (I have not before admitted to my secret earring obsession on my blog, I suppose this is the moment). It was a blessed and invigorating 45 minutes which helped me look forward with enjoyment to planning my future work, a time to truly give thanks for.
The other sign of God's Kingdom today were the bright green flip-flops (thongs) on the feet of Eric Matinenga. When he was unlawfully imprisoned his shoes were taken away from him, as for all prisoners, this of course increases the risk of infection in the fairly basic and unhygienic prison. When he was due to appear in court his lawyers and fellow prisoners found his the pair of fluorescent green flip-flops so that this great lawyer and elected member of parliament in Zimbabwe could at least have something on his feet when he went to court. Their bright-greeness brought a smile to my face despite the deep tragedy facing the whole population in Zimbabwe. They spoke to me of care for another human being's dignity, of resistance to being treated inhumanely and of the extraordinary committed work of the Zimabawe Lawyers for Human rights - they taught us a great deal about speaking the truth to power. That Kingdom is about transformation.
And today the sun shone and it was FABULOUS after the grey and the cold and rain. Thank you God.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Zimbabwe Lawyers for human rights

For over two months the World Student Christian Federation (WSCF) has been hosting lunchtime meetings about Zimbabwe on Wednesdays in the ecumenical centre. At the beginning of this month WSCF also set up a special Zimbabwe desk, which has been extremely busy given the raids on the Harare ecumenical centre and the arrest of SCM activists.
Today we had powerful and very moving testimony from three feisty members of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights. It was a privilege to listen to them, to see the photos they had managed to take of beaten prisoners and to hear them encourage us to continue in the churches to show our solidarity by praying with and for the people of Zimbabwe.
We saw photos today of advocate Eric Matinenga, still unlawfully imprisoned despite two high court rulings saying he should be released.
We listened, shared information and discussed how best to try to bring pressure to bear on the diplomatic system. The letter from the WCC general secretary to UN general secretary Ban Ki-Moon about the desperate situation in Zimbabwe was shared with all those present.
As is often the case we also tried to keep our spirits up - yes it is worth doing this because we want people in Zimbabwe to know that they are not alone.
At the end we prayed.

What if the Kingdom of God was just outside your door?

Thanks to the splendid Prodigal Kiwis blog I've come across this month long project where members of a congregation set up a blog to write about the signs of God's kingdom they see all around them, they commit to writing just a paragraph at least five days out of every seven for a month.
Steve Taylor whose idea the experiment is says:

"I am starting a 4 week series on Kingdom of God and I am asking for your help. My aim for the 4 weeks is to help us become better at finding the Kingdom in our ordinary and everyday lives as Christians. I am writing to ask if you would be willing to be part of a public experiment. And for the next 4 weeks, make a commitment to keep an on-line journal in which you write a paragraph each day on Kingdom signs that you are noticing in your everyday life and work."

You can read the full post here, at the end there's a good guide to how to approach the task and set up your own online journal. You can also read the journals of the Kingdom seekers :
"Regina is journaling here; Phil is journaling here;Judy is journaling here; Viv is journaling here; and outside Opawa, outside New Zealand, Eleanor is journaling here"

So why not join them and try it out and become part of the project, or maybe launch the idea in your own church soon.

The hope of a land without evil - learning from Indigenous theology while praying for Brazil

On Monday morning this week Simei Monteiro from Brazil prepared a wonderfully evocative service around the indigenous Guarini Indian concept of the Land without evil - Terra sem Males.
The service began with this invocation from the Missa da terra sem males:

On the behalf of all the peoples' father
- Maíra* of everything -
On the behalf of the Son,
Who made all people brothers and sisters,
In the blood mixed with all bloods,
On the behalf of the Liberating Alliance.
On the behalf of the Light for all cultures.
On the behalf of Love which is in all loves.
On the behalf of the Land-without-Evil,
Lost in the profit, won in the sorrow,
on the behalf of the vanquished Death,
on the behalf of Life, we sing , O God!
(from Missa da Terra sem Males) *Maira means origin/completeness/ the land without evil

Simei further outlined the Guarani theology of the land without evil in her meditation and also charted the, to me, unknown story of the Missa da Terra sem Males -
primarily the work of one of the most famous of Brazil's bishops, Dom Pedro Casaldáliga, a Spanish-Catalan and Pedro Tierra, who went by the nickname of Hamilton Pereira da Silva one of the victims of repression in Brazil. The music is by Matín Coplas, an Argentinian descended from Quechua and Aymara peoples.

When talking with Simei before the service I'd been really fascinated by the idea of the prophets being for the people the ones who know the beautiful words for the land without evil. You can see from the extract from Simei's meditation below that there is also a deep link between language and song in the theology of the land without evil:

"Y vy mara ey" or simply Maíra, the "terra sem males" is like a conception of an Eden in Guarani Theology. That is why they did not need any established priest or god. They simply need a prophet ,the one who could guide them to the Maíra.
They called the prophet: "caraí", the one who knew the way to the Land without Evil. The "caraí” also knew the "ayvu porã"- "the beautiful words", the "sacred words", the true words, a common language of human beings and gods, the sacred teachings.
These "beautiful words" were poems, the poetical language which could describe the reality of all things and its values. The good words to celebrate the divine dimension in the people's life just because they were related to the true dimension of human beings understood as being gods that have lost the "original song". This song was conceived as an original sound born from the "the divine wisdom".
The originality of this theology is that the language was also conceived as a song: and I quote some phrases of their mythical cosmological poem which says: "the song was conceived before Earth exists… in the middle of original darkness"…"before we could conceive things…"

As I read the sermon afterwards I was also very moved by the following extract about and from the mass itself:

The Mass of the Land Without Evil was composed during the year that was declared by the Brazilian Church as the Ano dos Mártires (Year of the Martyrs),1978. This commemoration involved a pointed redefinition of the notion of "martyr" to focus specifically on those missionaries who had lost their lives in recent years struggling for Indian rights and, more significantly, on the thousands of Indians martyred by the Church-supported colonial enterprise over the centuries.
At one point in the mass, a voice representing the colonial Church says:
And we missionized you,
betrayers of the gospel,
driving the Cross into your lives
like a sword,
the Good News ringing
a death knell.
Betrayers of the Gospel,
of the Word Incarnate,
we gave you as a message
an alien culture
We tore asunder
the peace of your life …

The way the gospel of Christ has been imposed rather than shared across the centuries and so many lands, has certainly not been a "land without evil" for many indigenous peoples. Finally, as they have been driven almost to the edge of extinction we, who have truly forgotten the language and song of the land without evil, are beginning to listen to and learn from
beautiful truths which preceded our own. May there still be time for that learning.

You can find the full liturgy from Monday here and Simei's sermon here.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

WCC calls on churches worldwide to day of prayer for Zimbabwe

Churches worldwide are being invited to celebrate a day of prayer for Zimbabwe on Sunday, 22 June, as the beginning of a season of prayer for the people and government of the African country, which is facing a critical time.

The day of prayer for Zimbabwe, which is an initiative of Christians in the country, will take place shortly before the runoff election for the presidency scheduled for Friday, 27 June.

"It is impossible to overstate the importance of this election, its fairness, its outcome and its aftermath", affirms the World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia in a letter to the WCC member churches. "Events in the coming weeks will challenge the people of Zimbabwe and the world to find means of overcoming violence in the exercise of democracy, and the results will influence the future of the nation and the region", he adds.

Full text of the invitation letter

There is also an excellent article on Zimbabwe from ENI from last week's Ecumenical Centre in Geneva weekly lunchtime meeting on Zimbabwe. The WSCF have just sent out an invitation to tomorrow's lunchtime meeting saying "With us tomorrow are three Zimbabwe human rights lawyers who have faced death threats and imprisonment for defending civil society activists. The focus will be on the presidential run-off elections and suggestions on how the international ecumenical movement can practically help Zimbabweans from this moment on."

Meanwhile David Ker on the splendid Lingamish blog has been highlighting the enough is enough blog about Zimbabwe on his home page - it has further links to some excellent blogs about the past and current situation and we can only guess as to why so many of them are no longer able to continue writing. Now is not the time to remain silent.

Monday, 16 June 2008

The new Deisis Icon from Sibiu for the chapel

Last week Luca Negro, a minister in the ItalianWaldensian Protestant Church, preached on the Orthodox icon from Romania pictured on the left here. The icon was part of the worship life at the Third European Ecumenical Assembly in Sibiu last year. The icon was hung in the chapel in Geneva last Monday.
" Painted on glass by the monks of the Orthodox Monastery of Sambata de Sus, not far from Sibiu, the icon is a special version of a very common icon, the so called “Deisis Icon” (the Greek word deisis meaning prayer, supplication).
This icon is present in every Orthodox Church, but our icon is special for two reasons: first of all because in the original version of this Sambata de Sus icon there is a different phrase written on the Gospel which Jesus holds in His left hand. The original has: “I am the door, the resurrection and the life”, a combination of John 10,7 and John 11,25, while the Assembly icon has another verse from John, which is more directly connected to the Assembly theme: “Eu sunt lumina lumii”, “I am the light of the world” (John 8,12)."

Mapping migration in Europe

Today the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva hosted the European launch of the Mapping Migration in Europe report written by CCME and the WCC (click on the link to download the report). The seminar for the launch heard from Doris Peschke, CCME's general secretary, Allessia Passarelli, one of the report's co-authors, and Amélé Ekué, professor at the Bossey Ecumenical Institute and a specialist in mission studies.
The report challenges perceptions about migration in Europe with facts - 63% of migrants in Europe are from within the continent and not from outside. Migration is an issue which affects all regions of the world not just Europe.
CCME is trying to get churches in Europe to support further mapping of migration and charting the perceptions of the issue which is so emotive and politicised. The report also points to the changing ecclesial map of Europe as an opportunity to rethink local ecumenical relations as well as a challenge to inter-church relations. Churches are encouraged to use the report to reflect on what "being Church together" means for them in this new and rapidly changing landscape. There are no easy recipes for "being church together" but there are stories to be shared, challenges to be faced, interestingly it is often Europe's minority churches who are experiencing some of this change first- the Protestant churches in Italy and France for example but perhaps also the Catholic Church in England.
Listening to the specialists speaking this morning I was shocked at some of the little known legal barriers the EU has in place meaning that a migrant refused in one country cannot be considered for entry into another EU country for five years. As Switzerland seems set to join the Schengen area later this year I wonder what the consequences will be for getting visas for people coming to international meetings in Geneva.

Marking the Reformation in 2017

Dr B. writes: "There's an interesting piece in the latest issue of the Journal of Ecumenical Studies in which Paul Schreck of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America suggests a joint declaration by the Catholic and Lutheran Churches to mark the Reformation in 2017 on the Confessio Augustana (CA, or Augsburg Confession), the primary confessional document of Lutheran churches.* The Augsburg Confession was written in both German and Latin, and was presented by a number of German rulers and free-cities at the Diet of Augsburg on June 25, 1530. As Schreck points out, there was increasing Catholic interest in the 1970s in a Catholic recognition of the statements of faith in the CA. Schreck notes that in 1958, Joseph Ratzinger had already highlighted the importance of the CA, an idea developed further in Ratzinger's Graz lecture of 1967, and in his Principles of Catholic Theology:

Research in recent years has led to the conclusion that it was not just for diplomatic reasons that the Confessio Augustana [henceforth CA] was composed as the fundamental
Lutheran confessional text; it was intended to be interpreted under the law of the empire as a Catholic confession; it 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. Efforts are being made, accordingly, to bring about a Catholic recognition of the CA--or more accurately, a recognition of the CA as Catholic--that would establish the Catholicity of the churches of the Augsburg Confession and thus make possible a corporate union despite existing differences. Certainly such a recognition of the CA by the Catholic Church would be far more than a theoretical theological action that could be worked out by historians and church politicians. It would be, rather, a
concrete historical step on both sides.

The idea was picked up also by Walter Kasper, who is now president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Unity, who suggested that Catholic recognition of the CA would not mean that it would become a Catholic confessional document, but that it would be seen as one legitimate expression of the Catholic faith.

Schreck's research leads him to the conclusion that at some point a joint Lutheran-Catholic attempt to attest to the Catholic nature of the CA was simply set aside. However, he suggests that with the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification by the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation, there is now the basis for the issue of the CA to be picked up again. Moreover, he suggests, such a step would have significance beyond the LWF:

The ecumenical importance of such a recognition of the CA would not belimited to Lutherans. John Calvin accepted a revised version of the CAin 1541; in 1684 the Peace of Westphalia recognized Calvinists as members of the Augustan community. Thomas Cranmer based many of his forty-two articles upon the CA, so recognition of the CA would presumably have some bearing on the Thirty-nine articles of the Church of England."
* Paul A Schreck, "Under One Christ: Implications of a Roman Catholic Recognition of the Confessio Augustana in CE 1017", Journal of Ecumenical Studies, vol. 43, no. 1, Winter 2008, pp. 90-110.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Ursprung und Ziel: Erhoffte Vergangenheit, errinerte Zukunft - a hoped for past and a remembered future

I have been a fan of the German Old Testament theologian Jürgen Ebach's work ever since hearing him speak on a lecture tour in former East Germany, about a month before the Berlin wall came down. He's active in the steering committee of the German Protestant Kirchentag and has in recent years been very involved in the translation and defence of the Bibel in Gerechter Sprache. I always try to treat myself to at least one of his Bible studies at the Kirchentag. He's a brilliant communicator of the depths, contexts and meanings of ancient texts, I love sitting in a huge hall with over 3,000 people in it just listening to him and studying the text together.
This evening I've been thinking once again of the wonderful title of a book of essays, stories and bibical exegesis he wrote in 1986 called Ursprung und Ziel: Erhoffte Vergangenheit, errinerte Zukunft. He turns the idea of a hoped for future and a remembered past on its head by talking about a hoped for past and a remembered future. When I first saw the title it just clicked with me as a wonderful way of summing up a liberating path into ancient multilayered texts which have been retold and rewritten in contexts far away from mine. It offers a playful but profound paradigm and communicates something of the everchanging perspectives we deal with when translating texts with deep meaning for our own time.
But these thoughts have been provoked more prosaicly this evening by watching television, as I played catch up on the two episodes of Dr Who I've missed while on my recent travels. There was a wonderful line in episode nine about "nostalgia for the future" - very theological. Perhaps that is what the biblical prophets of old were trying to inspire - a nostalgia for a better future, that would be a fitting goal and source for the meaning of our human storytelling.
(And OK I admit Dr Who is desperately culturally specific to Brits - though it would seem that the new Dr Who is being shown in France. I don't care if bits of episodes 8 and 9 were rather inspired by Audrey Niffenegger's wonderful The Time Traveller's Wife, it was still very satisfying and I just loved the idea of a library computer saving people as well as books onto the hard disk.)

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Greetings from Bremen!

I'm about to take the train back to Geneva from this lovely city in the north of Europe where I've been attending a planning meeting for the next German Protestant Kirchentag which will take place here from 20-24th May 2009.
Bremen with its international trading history, harbour and tradition as a city-state is an interesting place the church conference to take place and talk about globalisation.
It's also interesting confessionally as each local congregation decides whether it is Lutheran, Reformed or accepts both confessions. It's a much more lay led church than many of the Protestant churches in Germany so a good base for the Kirchentag which is a lay movement.
Anyway book the dates for the Kirchentag now and come with a group - just 340 days left to get organised - international guests welcome.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Intercessions for Zimbabwe

Here's a link to the ENI article on the arrests of Christian activists in Harare. Those arrested were released late on Tuesday evening but were then to appear in court.

Meanwhile, the Mennonite World Conference has issued this prayer of intercession for the Zimbabwe elections, encouragimg people around the world to fast and pray on June 26 and 27:
- that God will intervene in a visible way to end the violence and suffering that have afflicted Zimbabwe;
- that the churches of Zimbabwe will be signs of God’s love and justice in the midst of this struggle;
- that those who have been intimidated will be able to exercise their right to vote without further threat;
- that election monitors will be permitted to play a credible role to assure integrity and lack of violence at polling stations;
- that the government in power will allow honest results to be reported;
- that, whatever the election results, the government in power will agree to come to the table with opposition political leaders, military and security forces, and church and civil society organizations to map out a workable path for the future of the country
- that African and United Nations leaders will play a strong and clear role in pressing for the above outcomes.

The Mennonite World Conference is a communion (Koinonia) of Anabaptist-related churches linked to one another in a worldwide community of faith for fellowship, worship, service, and witness.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Throwing down stories next to each others stories at feminist theology

We have finished this year's course of feminist theology evenings with a slap up sumptuous supper preceded by an hour and a half of prompted and impromptu story telling. With gentleness and respect more than two thirds of those present told a story or parable - some from real life, some remembered tales from childhood, some feminist re-workings of biblical material.
It was a special time, inspired for me by J.K. Gayle's feminist reworking of the Wheat and tares in Matthew 13.24-30 which I had fun - and difficulties - translating into French. That and the Walter Wink quote about struggling with the text until it wounds and blesses us were our starting points as we threw down our stories next to other stories and built meaning upon meaning. (interesting that the French for wound is blesser...)
On the one hand it was an essentially post modernist exercise, on the other it seemed as old as time itself as we sat around and told tales. It seemed right that the longest, most personal and most literarily pleasing story was told last by someone who did not know she was going to tell that story when she arrived. At the end all of our stories made sense thrown down next to one another. Meaning was woven and we were in many ways satisfied even before we sat down to eat all around one long table.
I really want to write more about this but am in need of some sleep after the night train back from Rome earlier in the week and my very early morning appointment with a train to Bremen tomorrow. Not sure my train will be internet enabled - not sure I'll even be awake enough to find out.

Statement on the arrest of members of the Student Christian Movement of Zimbabwe

I have posted below the complete statement by SCMZ, please try to to take the time to read to the end and consider what you may be able to do. "The time has come not only to speak out but to act against injustice, oppression and corruption."

Sent: Tuesday, June 10, 2008 03:46 AM

As part of the ongoing onslaught on civic society organisations in Zimbabwe, the Ecumenical Centre, a conglomeration of faith based democracy organisations which house the Student Christian Movement of Zimbabwe (SCMZ), the Ecumenical Support Services (ESS), the Christian Alliance (CA) and Zimbabwe National Pastors Conference (ZNPC) and PADARE Men’s Forum on Gender has been raided at around 1300hrs, Monday 09 June 2008 by heavily armed members of the police, central intelligence and military personnel.
The Student Christian Movement of Zimbabwe a chapter of the World Student Christian Federation (WSCF) based in Geneva Switzerland which stands for promoting justice and peace in Zimbabwe has received with great shock the subsequent raid, arrest and detention of some of its employees and executive members. In the process police ransacked the SCMZ offices and confisticated, computers, laptops, digital cameras, and a mini bus. The movement sees this as a move to incapacitate the movement since it has been fully geared towards sensitising Christian students and youth on their rights and responsibilities in the face of a break or make Presidential runoff pencilled for the 27 of June 2008. Those arrested are, Prosper Munatsi (SCMZ General Secretary), Sandra Dzvete (office intern), Langelihle Manyani (Vice Chairperson), Matsiliso Moyo (Gender Secretary) and her seven month old baby and Precious (Finance and Administration Officer).
SCMZ condemns such acts of intimidation directed to civil society players by the state security agents. SCMZ views the arrests and detentions as part of the broader campaign of intimidation orchestrated against defenceless citizens. The ZANU PF government is clearly displaying its degrees in violence. This is the time for the whole world to see and judge for itself the true characteristic of a government which has many times tried to convince the world that it is not only legitimate but democratic. The government has abdicated its duties by declaring war on its own people and creating an atmosphere of general insecurity among the populace. It is our sacred duty as civil society and opposition forces to continue fighting for the opening up of democratic space and justice in Zimbabwe. To members of the ecumenical family the time has come for us not only to speak but also to act against injustice, oppression and corruption according to the standard of the word of God.

Psalms 72:1-4 "May he judge thy people with righteousness, and thy poor with justice! Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people, and the hills in righteousness! May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor!

Inserted by the SCMZ National Office
+263 703 474
+263 738 920
+263 912 948 274

The situation in Zimbabwe getting more critical

Reports are coming in that the situation in Zimbabwe getting even more critical. It would seem that the offices of the Christian Student Movement and other church organisations in Harare have been raided by armed police.
Tomorrow here in Geneva the regular Wednesday lunchtime meeting on Zimbabwe will be held. The time for action is here but what action will it be possible to take?
Like Desmond Tutu I too would like to believe in "the triumph of goodness" in this ghastly situation but I fear that things will first get even worse and this will cost the lives of many individuals and lead to the further civil breakdown of an already critically weak country.
this is such a desperately sad time.

Monday, 9 June 2008

The joy of slow travel

Dr B. has just got back from Berlin where he was celebrating his friend Horst's 60th birthday, at which Gerhard Schöne performed a Wünschkonzert, and he travelled there and back by train. "You know," he said,"it might seem a contradiction in terms to call the Intercity Express, which rolls at 250 km an hour (or faster) 'slow travel', but that is what it is when it takes 11 hours to get from Calvin City to Berlin. We're so used to instantaneous communication and have the whole battery of internet, email, mobile phone and sms to make sure that wherever we are we are instantly in touch. The low cost airlines apply the same logic to airtravel (sometimes), blink your eyes and you are there (after having of course queued up to check in, go through security, to board the plane and so on) - lunch in Geneva, afternoon tea in Berlin, or whatever. But travelling by train you have a real sense of the distances you are covering, and having space in your mind to adjust from a to b. And, of course, if you are really lucky, you can read a book, newspaper, relax , visit the restaurant car, have time to relax. It can be a moment when time stops still, a small glimpse of eternity."

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Myths, rituals and symbols

In one of sessions today we were encouraged to think more deeply about culture and to share with others about the myths and stories of our own culture, its rituals and symbols.
This was quite a challenge for me - what is my own culture - Britain, France, parts of Germany?
And in any of those cultures I've only myself been part of minority cultures, Protestantism in France, non-conformity in England. I am very much a child of post-modernity with my French Protestant Huguenot cross round my neck, my German surname and my BBC radio programmes playing in the background of my life.
Then I thought about cups of tea and how even though I now drink mine without milk I would still even now more naturally think about making a cup of tea when I come home, than preparing an apéritif.
The offer of a hot drink is often the welcoming ritual into a British home - it's not as religious or formal as the Japanese tea ceremony nor as ritualised as the Pacific Islands Kava ceremony - but it is a way of saying welcome. Some may find the coffee or tea rather undrinkable but it's still a way of saying make yourself at home.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Authority in organisational management?

At the Craighead Institute course I'm taking here in Rome we've been doing some fascinating work mapping the organisations we work for as they are in our minds - as we did this through drawing it was a good way to get some unconscious stuff onto paper without using words. In a later session we moved on to look at issues of power and authority which was very challenging.
More than ten years ago I took an Open University course on managing in the non-profit making sector. I still remember one of my tutors saying that she found working with groups of clergy the most challenging (problematic) because they often refused to face up to or own issues of power. I've been revisiting some of those thoughts again after our sessions and role plays on power and authority and realised that as the only Protestant in the group (the others are all Roman Catholics) I probably had a rather different take on authority. My most positive experiences of exercising authority have been when this has been a clearly structured responsibility, where authority and discernment were shared collegially with others - sometimes in the elders' meetings I have worked with as a local pastor but particulalry on national church committees like the ERF's Commission des Ministères.
It's interesting to be faced with the issue of authority. Authority being in a person consecrated to that authority (bishops etc.) is not something I can readily agree to - though I might have been willing to sign it away in the 1970s in England for the sake of greater church unity. I am Reformed rather than Anglican or Methodist because I feel it is better for authority to be with groups and structures, for leadership, discernment and decisions-making to be exercised collegially.
This could be seen to be a great weakness of Protestantism - nothing is ever completely absolute - the group discerning and deciding can change. Perhaps sometimes we hide our power and authority in this collegiality and we don't always take responsibility for our individual and corporate power and responsibilty. I realised that this course is going to make me want to read Calvin again on church polity - I don't think I ever expected that!
And of course as I reflect on these issues of power and authority in the ecumenical context my own experiences in the course make me realise just how difficult it is to even speak the same language between our churches, let alone find a language that can have authority for all of the churches. Perhaps we simply have to trust in the ecumenical Spirit of Pentecost to do that work of interpretation for us.

Gay pride in Rome

So this weekend is gay pride in Rome and at the end of the day I walked from a session of my course on organisational mission and inspiration into the rather wonderful melée of the rainbow parade on the Piazza Venezia.
The banner I saw most frequently had a picture of St Peter's on it with a large cross through it and said No VAT! It took me a while to get over my cognitive dissonance and realise that VAT was not value added tax but the Vatican. As we had been saying at my management course all day context is everything!
Anyway it woulds eem that No VAT is a grouping working for a secular Italian state along the lines of France. Their flags were out in force because same sex couples in Italy do not yet have the same rights as same sex couples in France, Switzerland or the UK, and the Catholic Church is seen as blocking any moves in this direction.
Tomorrow morning my host here in Rome will be helping lead an ecumenical service for the gay pride weekend at one of the local base communities.
Each time I come to Rome there seems to be a demonstration. Today's was a lots more joyous fun than the last two I got caught up in which were political rallies by the fascists.

Friday, 6 June 2008

Support the Euro 08 campaign against trafficing in women

As much of Europe gears up for going football crazy the Euro 08 campaign against the trafficking of women has also stepped up its campaign. The cross border campaign in Switzerland and Austria has received wide support from civil society groups as well as politicians and churches. If you live in Switzerland you can sign the petition which asks for victims of trafficking to be protected and for the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings to be ratified as soon as possible.
And just for the record I'm not sure about the poster - using emblematic parts of women's bodies even to sell this message doesn't quite work for me but maybe I'm just a feminist prude. I supose it's trying to say trafficking shackles women into sexual slavery.

To Rome without a camera

Until 18 months ago I had never visited this glorious, beautiful, mad and inspiring city and now I'm here for the fourth time. Walking to and from my course past the Colisseum and the Forum I still find it mindblowing to see more than 2,000 years of history in one glance - and no photo I take ever does it justice so I've let Dr B take the camera to Berlin.
Now I don't feel obliged to take photos I feel able to drink it all in rather more and just sit and drink a coffee and enjoy it - rather than feel I have to record it.
I realised that it is strange for me to be somewhere so very Catholic, old and young nuns and priests at every turn.
Coming into the house this evening I noticed the "household gods" in the entrance foyer with the blessed palm Sunday olive branch over them - these are not the household gods I learnt about in my school Latin and Roman culture classes, but porcelain busts of Jesus and Mary. Blessed palm Sunday branches are only something I've learnt about since living in France - there they tend to be branches of box rather than olive branches. In the popular religious mind they bring good luck and blessing to the house, ward off evil and are generally quite a good thing to have. Appeasing the household gods and demons I suppose.
Until living in France I'd only ever seen palm crosses not branches.
Yet as I look at nuns and priests moving around the city here I realise that a seismic change has already taken place in Christianity - it has moved to the global South. What will that mean for future visitors to the eternal city in 50 or 100 years time . What will the household gods be then will blessed branches still be used to appease them?