Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Is modesty an "eternal virtue" or a sexist concept?

At the beginning of the weekend I read La pudeur "vertu éternelle" on the Réforme site. Although there were some interesting points in the interview with Gérard Bonnet who is a psychoanalyst - modesty should not be equated with shame for instance - the whole form of his argument left me feeling angry.
It would seem from what Bonnet says that neither the male body nor the male mind has anything to learn about modesty. All of the concrete examples he mentioned from contemporary society had to do with women blushing, covering up or showing their bodies. (To be fair he does also mention Noah's nudity being covered by his children in the book of Genesis.)
I can see that protecting physical modesty can be important for children growing up. But it seems to me to be a huge leap from there to a discussion of women wearing more revealing clothes or to blame the erosion of the virtue of modesty on "triumphant feminism".
"Le féminisme triomphant a mis à mal cette vertu en voulant que la femme s’affirme envers et contre tout. Certes, il faut que la femme s’affirme. Mais la femme qui s’affirme de façon macho a perdu ses qualités féminines."
Ugh ... the thing that really makes me cross about this is the acceptance of "feminine qualities" as a given and the underpinning assumption that any discussion about modesty is about women's bodies and clothes - and when it isn't about that then the implication is that this supposed problem is the wrong thinking of feminist women. He doesn't even need to state any of that, it is just simply the frame of reference.
Men of course have nothing to be modest about, their bodies and thinking are completely acceptable, virtuous perhaps even - at no point does the article say this but it is for me the unwritten subtext.
It was only when reading Suzanne McCarthy's blog over recent days that I recognised that one of the reasons this article has been making me so angry is that it is psychoanalytical complementarianism. Suzanne and others like Rachel have been writing some brilliant exegesis and some very heartfelt posts on biblical complementarianism and egalitarianism in recent months, as I've mentioned before.
Are men and women esentially different or essentially equal as human beings made in the image of a creator God?

Monday, 28 July 2008

A river's last days

Le Monde 2 - the paper's weekend magazine - has got beautiful, sad and elegiac photos of the Rizzanese river in southern Corsica. Protesters have been trying to stop the damn being built that will all but kill the river. But they've lost. Pascal Tramoni, one of the friends who has been trying to save the river, is quoted in the article as saying that "it is the smallest dam in the world but it will produce maximum devastation." Ancient forests fed by the river will no longer have enough water.
What is being promised in return is possible autonomous production of electricity for the mediterranean island. It's a sad story, one that shouldn't be forgotten as the struggle to protect access to water goes on in so many place across the world. At least when there's nothing left for anyone to drink the lights will still be on. Strangely I don't find that much of a comfort.
It's easy for preachers like me to speak easily of holding on to hope. What does that mean when irreperable damage has been done to the environment? When 10 years of campaigning still lead to the needs of money rather than the environment winning out in the end.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Read the ecumenical water network blog

Tomorrow the Ecumenical Water Network summer school starts and the particpants have already begun blogging.

Preserving the world’s water resources and securing access to water for all is one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. In 2008, the EWN will therefore bring together about 20 young people from all over the world in the first EWN Summer School on Water.
The participants will have the opportunity to study - in a regionally and confessionally diverse group - the local, regional, and international manifestations and causes of the water crisis. They will examine the situation and challenges from a perspective of faith and ethics, and search together for possible ecumenical responses.

You can read the full programme of the summer school here - speakers include, Ted Karpf from the World Health Organization, Thomas Bauer from the Brazilian Pastoral Land and Anton Earle of the Stockholm International Water Institute.

Friday, 25 July 2008

From Schadenfreude to messy ecumenism

Schadenfreude is one of those German words that is almost untranslateable - it means taking pleasure at others misfortunes. We read chapter 4 of the book of Jonah yesterday morning and I realised that Schadenfreude really sums up Jonah's attitude to Nineveh as he sits outside the city hoping for fireworks as God smites the city. Then he rants at God for being too merciful and forgiving. Our prayers were filmed by a Dutch tv crew making a film about the WCC's 60th anniversary - fortunately we were joined by visitors from Berlin just in time to make the side chapel look almost full. It was quite a challenge catering for the needs of the visitors and the tv crew at the same time.
Today, standing in for a colleague who was ill, I gave an ad hoc talk to an ecumenical group of pastors from Detroit. Towards the end of our discussion I asked whether they had heard about messy church and that then got me wondering aloud about what "messy ecumenism" might look like. Just like messy church is a way of offering a less heavily structured but still God centred activity for families, might there be space in the ecumenical movement for something less structured more cafe-culture ecumenism that could bring a new generation in, alongside the more institutional ecumenism? Just musing really.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Justice and peace kiss - solidarity with the Cartoon Blog from a woman Bishop?

I have sent a small black armband to Dave Walker at the Cartoon Blog - it should arrive at the Lambeth conference sometime over the weekend. (Thank you Dr B.) Dave was threatened with legal action if he didn't remove his campaigning articles about the SPCK bookshops in the UK from his blog, which was certainly not an easy decision for him. In a bygone century a black armband was worn as a sign of grief and I suppose the black wristband I'm sending him is trying to say something about my sadness and grief about yet another sign of the death of free speech.
The black wristbands pictured here, one of which Dave will get, were the idea of Bishop Margot Kässmann of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hanover to protest at human rights abuses in China in the run up to the Olympics. ENI reports her as saying:
"It shows that people want to stand up for others and show what they believe in." ...
Kässmann told the German Protestant news agency epd on 16 July that the reaction to the initiative had been overwhelming. Originally 2000 bracelets were produced for athletes and others attending the games, to be worn as a protest against the violation of human rights in China and Tibet. The idea then found a huge response in schools, sports clubs and church congregations. The black silicon bracelets are inscribed with a verse from the Bible, "righteousness and peace will kiss each other" (Psalm 85:10). You can read the full story here.

I suppose sending one of these black wristbands to Dave is my way of saying, this setback concerns all of us and we need to find a way of standing up and speaking out against wrong - in totalitarian capitalist societies and in democratic capitalist societies. Dave please feel supported, not for having removed the posts about SPCK, but for having dared to speak out in the first instance. Not many people even bother to campaign in such a personal way.
For more information and to find out how to find the deleted posts you can got to Doug Chaplin's MetaCatholic blog.

Dave Walker threatened

Like many others I was shocked when Dave Walker of the Cartoon blog announced he was removing all posts relating to the SPCK bookshops takeover in the UK - due to a legal threat. Then even that explanatory post was removed. Dave had been doing brilliant work detailing the issues and problems about the shops. The blogosphere (I think that must be the first time I have ever used that word) or at least the small bit of it I regularly visit is full of outrage - some think Dave shouldn't have given in so easily.
David Keen
has got some useful links, and David Ker at Lingamish has been inspired to draw a cartoon of his lingapotamus. So far the best links are from Doug Chaplin here.
Can't someone get the Lambeth bishops to campaign for their very own cartooner, or is this not what Anglicans do? I shall be sending my own roving reporter into the fray this weekend. Bishop Allan has a good post here.
The important thing is that Dave Walker should not stop drawing - prove that the pencil be mightier than the writ or the threat of writ.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Reading the Psalms ... with the Cloister Walk

Ever since I first read it a few years ago I enjoy dipping in and out of Kathleen Norris' book The Cloister Walk.
For morning prayer yesterday morning I read out a passage from the book which included this:
"As I began to immerse myself in monastic liturgy, I found that I was also immersed in poetry and was grateful to find that in teh poetic nature of the psalms, their constant movement between the mundane and the exalted means, as British Benedictine Sebastian Moore has said, that 'God behaves in the psalms in ways he is not allowed to behave in systamiatic theology.'"

I'm not sure that the idea of God behaving badly is an entirely worthy one for my early morning meditation but it made me wryly smile...

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Reform reforms - a cracking good read for thinking people

I was delighted to come home late last night to find our first copy of the relaunched Reform in the letter box. And it is a real relaunch - now in full colour with more pages and more content - and more staff as well. With the first of two articles by Walter Brueggemann, a guide by John Campbell to Richard Dawkins' arguments and the launch of a regular green page campaigning on environmental issues it really is setting out to be what it claims to be under the strapline: news, comment, inspiration, debate. And quite apart from that it's a really good read. I can tell because Dr B was reading it while walking along to the bus this morning - it won out over the croissant in his other hand.
Congratulations to Kay Paris the new editor and the whole of the communications team. At the relaunch at the URC's assembly Kay said, “It will be a cracking good read for thinking people. Churchgoers today have a complex relationship with faith. They expect to read engaging, thought-provoking, challenging material and to encounter views and interpretations they can agree with, or disagree with.”
It's great, and at last a GB publication which can begin to hold its own in terms of discussion and debate with Réforme in France or Riforma in Italy. You can subscribe here.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Love fulfills the law

This morning my friend and colleague Theo Gill, or as he is officially known, Theodore A. Gill, Jr, preached a bravura sermon on love being the fulfillment of the law. When we asked for a text afterwards he laughed but he has provided a pretty good trace of what he said. Next time I really must record him.

Here is just a small extract, he ranged from Gamaliel to Emil Brunner, between love and law:

‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’”

This was not a notion original to the early Christians.
Listen to this story from the early rabbinic writings (T.J. Ta’an, 1, 4, 64b, line 54):

“[In a time of drought] it was revealed to Rabbi Abbahu in a dream that Pentekaka [i.e., ‘the man of five sins’] should pray for rain. Abbahu sent and had this sinner fetched to him. He asked him what his trade was. Pentekaka replied, ‘Every day I commit five sins. I hire myself out to harlots; I deck their theatres; I take the harlots’ garments to the baths; I clap and dance before them; and I beat the tympanum for their orgies.’ Rabbi Abbahu said to him, ‘Have you ever done one good deed?’ He said, ‘Once I was decking out the theatre when a woman came and wept behind one of the pillars. When I asked her why she was weeping, she told me that her husband was in prison and that she was going to sell her honour to obtain his ransom. So I sold my bed and coverlet, and gave her the price, and said, “Go, redeem your husband, and sin not.”’ And the rabbi said to him: ‘Worthy art thou to pray, and to be answered.’”

Or as Paul writes, "love is the fulfilling of the law."

You can read the full - or should that be the incomplete - text here. As the Germans say -"Es gilt das gesprochene Wort", after all this text was only established after the word had been spoken and preached.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Reflecting on blogging kingdom signs

Thanks to the Prodigal Kiwis pointing to Steve Taylor's idea of getting members of his congregation to journal about signs of the kingdom in the their daily lives, I was inspired to do the same and have just come to the end of the month's experiment.
I shall miss it but I sense a certain liberation and achievement - is it already month - did I really manage (more or less) to submit to this kind of spiritual discipline for a whole month? Less mundanely, writing about a specific theme and trying to open myself to seeing God at work in my everyday life has been good for me. It's helped me recognize both how splendidly varied and rich my life is, but also how good it is for my soul, for my relationship with God to dwell on smaller things - the play of light, the colour of sky, the texture of friendship. As I've already mentioned it's also helped give me permission to feel and to see how alot of my anger, angst and general worrying can be transformed and used to further the work of the kingdom.
The exercise has also taken me back to reading some books which had a deep impact on my spirituality 20 years ago - Charles Elliott's Praying the Kingdom, Fulbert Steffensky's Feier des Lebens, Dorothee Sölle's Die Hinreise - it's good for me to read those again.
I already miss reading the Opawa bloggers but I look forwards to maybe one day getting people in a community I'm involved with doing something similar.
Thinking about how God may be at work has also shown me that communal prayer is not just an important part of my day but actually offers me essential structure and support for the way of the disciple. It's good to work in a place that gives me that possibility.
Meanwhile you can still keep up with Georgina and Dan on their kingdom blogs, or even try it yourselves.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

The bookseller of Ferney Voltaire

We whiled away time in our wonderful local bookshop this morning, you can visit the Librairie Central website here.
Of course we don't really need any more books but I had the excuse of a book token. It's a wonderful proper independant bookshop, (France has not yet abolished the equivalent of the joint book agreement which has seen the demise of so many independant bookshops in the UK - but even here changes are afoot) and it is run by the brilliant, cheerful, dynamic and incredibly well-read Anne. This morning while I was browsing in the back room she gave a gentle bravura performance, talking a customer looking for a summer read for a friend through 20 or 30 books.
She reads the books in her shop, she listens to customers' comments on what they're reading and she puts people in touch with one another. Once a month she organizes a café littéraire for local authors and readers. The favourite is always "livre sous le bras" - bring a book along and say why you like it. Anne has made the shop into a wonderful and essential local resource. The huge bookshop chains in nearby Geneva cannot begin to match this kind of service, and often don't have the breadth of choice you can find in the Librairie Centrale. And in the garden pictured here you get armchairs to laze in and free coffee as well. Isn't there something in the Bible about the kingdom of heaven being like a bookshop where you can drink coffee?

Friday, 18 July 2008

A nightingale sang ... to draw signs of the kingdom to a close?

Tonight a nightingale sang for about 20 minutes in our small town garden while we sat and drank our Friday evening fizz and ate Dr B's homemade pizza. It was a beautiful sound and one I'd not heard since we left the manse six years ago - it made me realise we are surrounded by more trees here than I thought.
Next week I won't blog any more on signs of the kingdom anymore - the remit was to do it for a month. The other bloggers in Opawa have all ended their kingdom blogging now and I shall draw to a close over the weekend with some reflection about what it has meant for me to focus my thoughts in this way. Meanwhile Georgina is just getting stuck in to her kingdom signs and I hope others will give it a try too.
Today my kingdom sign is not the beautiful birdsong or the heart-warming tale of teaching young people music in Soweto's townships I watched on the tv - though both lifted my spirits and spoke to me of God's beauty and commitment.
I have been wondering today if the flutter of the kingdom that has been offered to me over recent days has not been something to be found in perseverance and toughness when faced with depression and despair. Is steeliness also a sign of the kingdom? I suppose today I sense deeply that the kingdom is not about niceness but it is about God calling us, calling me, to go beyond ourselves. Perhaps that's also the message of the nightingale's song, a much bigger music than the tiny insignificant little bird itself. A call to be courageous.

Happy 90th birthday Nelson Mandela

For five more days you can listen again and download a programme about former prisoner 46664 as he passes his 90th birthday. It's a good programme in hommage to a modern icon of hope. Happy birthday Madiba.

Signs of the kingdom in fragments of a broken story

I found myself having a surprising conversation today - while supposedly learning how to use the database I ended up answering questions about the history, meaning and theology of the trinity via ideas about particle physics and the beauty of higher calculus. [I should say that all I know about higher calculus is the pleasure of occasionally getting the mental arithmatic right when I was a barmaid!]
Somewhere in the conversation I heard myself talking about how my faith makes sense to me not in terms of dogmas but a bit in the way of a story of hope, justice and love; a story the text of which is continually being torn up and scattered, rewritten and writen against - but a story which I still try to piece back together, make sense out of, on my own and with others; coping all the time with maybe only perceiving fragments of meaning.
I suppose this just shows that I really am a child of postmodernity - maybe my faith would not be able to cope with completeness of meaning, or perfect translation ...
However, I'd never made sense of my faith to myself in that way before. Although even now just a few hours later I don't quite remember what it was I was saying, I am so grateful to have been asked the question that led to these thoughts, to be able to tell my fragmented story in that way - for today.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

South African churches express overwhelming support for targeted economic sanctions against Zimbabwe

ENI is reporting that

"Delegates from churches in Zimbabwe, South Africa and other southern African countries meeting in Johannesburg have expressed "overwhelming support" for targeted economic sanctions against Zimbabwe.
A statement from the South African Council of Churches, which was co-hosting the 13-17 July meeting, described targeted economic sanctions "as a practical strategy to loosen former President Robert Mugabe's 'illegitimate' grip on power and to promote a negotiated political settlement".

You can read the full SACC statement here and also a report on Roderick Hewitt's sermon I mentioned yesterday.
Keep praying for the people of Zimbabwe. Overcome fear by faith.

Plantu, cartoons and Lambeth

Quite amazingly - given how proud of laïcité France likes to claim to be - the debate about homosexuality in the Anglican communion has made the front page of Le Monde and inspired the wonderful Plantu to draw this colourful cartoon. There is always at least one mouse in Plantu cartoons - in this one there are two and they seem to be a male and female bishop - not sure whether they are called Minnie and Mickey though. Do visit Plantu's site here, it's got brilliant cartoons and drawings for peace and showcases his work over many decades.
Anyway the Lambeth Conference has its own resident cartoonist in Dave Walker. He does a great job updating the Church Times blog, adding further spice to deliberations with his drawings. Dave has a lovely small tent in Canterbury with a view towards a Tardis-like blue structure structure - perhaps he'll be able to tell us what the collective noun for a group of bishops is. I know it's a conclave of cardinals - is it an oversight of bishops?

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

The myth of ... Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac - not a sign of the kingdom

I'm a great lover of myth, symbolism and meaning. However the sub-prime myth of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the self regulating market economy leaves me raging and feeling impotent. I hate that such cuddly names can be given to hugely powerful financial institutions - "Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are the only two Fortune 500 companies that are not required to inform the public about any financial difficulties that they may be having."
It is beyond my comprehension that such enormous monetary clout should be even further protected by the law - meanwhile the west imposes so called "free trade" on countries throughout the world, driving local fishermen or poultry farmers to the brink of extinction.
Do the economic parables being told daily in the financial pages of the newspapers have ever more meaning or just less and less? Why do we go on putting our faith in turbo capitalism?
Are rage, incomprehension and helplessness signs of the kingdom?

Preaching powerful solidarity with Zimbabwe a sermon by Dr Roderick Hewitt

The Council for World Mission (CWM) have been involved in a Zimbabwe summit in Johannesburg. CWM moderator Dr Roderick Hewitt preached a powerful sermon of solidarity with the suffering people of Zimbawe at the opening service for the summit:

I am an African Jamaican who has been influenced by the philosophy of that great Jamaican and Pan-Africanist, Marcus Mosiah Garvey and Rastafarai hermeneutics that strongly embraces an Afro-centric worldview. I can still remember how Jamaicans joined with millions around the world and celebrated the liberation of Zimbabwe from Ian Smith’s illegitimate colonial government. It was Bob Marley who penned the famous words: “Africans a liberate Zimbabwe” in celebration of the liberation struggle that resulted in the overthrowing of the government. To thousands of independent citizens with great hopes and aspiration for their nation he sang out in Harare “Africans a liberate Zimbabwe”. Mugabe and his War Veterans danced on Independence Day, April 18, 1980 as Bob sang the opening verse:

“Every man gotta right to decide his own destiny,
And in this judgement there is no partiality.
So arms in arms with arms, we’ll fight this little struggle
‘Cause that’s the only way we can overcome our little trouble!”
In response the chorus line affirmed: Brother, you’re right, you’re right, so right!

In this judgement there is no partiality
Why then after 28 years, are we gathered in this place to remind the regime that every one within the nation of Zimbabwe got the right to decide the nation’s destiny? It was not right when the Western Powers’ Trojan horse, Ian Smith was in power and it is still not right when Mugabe the liberation war hero has betrayed the revolution because of his regime’s oppression of his people. Bob Marley prophetic words remind us that: “in this judgement there is no partiality”! Marley warned him about the possibility of a great betrayal of the Zimbabwe people:

“ No more internal power struggle;
We come together to overcome this little trouble
Soon we’ll find out who is the true revolutionary
‘Cause I don’t want my people to be contrary”

You can read the whole sermon here.

At the weekly Zimbabwe lunchtime meeting in the ecumenical centre today we heard about how the World YWCA is deeply concerned to get people to look beyond the power politics of the current crisis to the desperate needs of the people, particularly as the humanitarian crisis worsens. The YWCA is doing excellent advocacy work with the UN special rapporteur on violence against women, by monitoring human rights abuses against women and girls in Zimbabwe. It is also encouraging national YWCAs to engage with the governments, churches and NGOs to try to bring about change.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

From Tombstone Arizona to the Edinburgh assembly: Roberta Rominger's address to the URC Assembly and two women elected as assembly moderators

At the United Reformed Church assembly last week the Revd Roberta Rominger gave her first address as general secretary of the denominaiton last week saying this:

The URC received me, welcomed me, included me, nurtured me, taught me pretty much everything I know, gave me opportunities, forgave my mistakes challenged and deepened my faith. I could give you 50 reasons why I love this church, but the first on the list would be the most important – I find God here. Have done from the first day. Still do, over and over and over again. I find God in the faithfulness of this church, its imagination, its boldness… and in its restlessness, its dissatisfaction, its unease. What is God saying to us through the signs of these times? Church attendance on the wane, aggressive secularism dominating the media? Widespread rejection of “institutional religion” even by many who would consider themselves Christians. There are fresh expressions of church around us as varied as the creativity of the Christians pioneering them. We welcome them – they give us hope - but few of them are self-sustaining and scarcely any could support the sort of infrastructure this Assembly represents, to educate the next generation of leaders or engage with world Christianity or speak a Christian word to power or administer a pension plan. What is God saying? Are we facing the demise of church as we have known it? Or if we listen carefully enough and respond openly enough, is there a future for us in God’s unfolding purposes?

And as the URC listened to its first ever woman general secretary it also elected two women to be joint assembly moderators from 2010 the Revd Dr Kirsty Thorpe and Val Morrison. Sometimes I'm proud of the church which helped nurture my faith.

Signs of the kingdom in perfumed roses

I'm not sure if a flower can speak - saying for instance carpe diem - sieze the moment, sieze the day. The bouquets of flowers I have at home at the moment speak in all sorts of ways: bright sunflowers, showing off their light even when the rain is pouring down; posh blue scabias and spider blue chrysanthemums speaking of elegance and refinement against white roses and greenery; red roses and gerberas speaking of love, power, strength and fortitude; and finally a bunch of mixed heavily scented old roses, the petals already falling, the perfume greeting us home in the evening.
Each flower is an invitation to live in the moment, to notice the fullness of time present, laden as it is with the efforts of time past and the hope of time future. Signs of the kingdom in the here and now, beautifuly coloured and fully perfumed.

Monday, 14 July 2008

The rich man has no name but Lazarus is called "God helps"

In chapel this morning Douwe Visser, our new colleague from the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, preached a thought-provoking sermon on the parable of the rich man and Lazarus from Luke 16. 19-31. It was a real invitation to reflect on our own riches and whether they stop us from seeing other people:

"What Jesus wants to tell us is that the rich man has never even seen Lazarus on his doorstep. The rich man is not a bad person; he just doesn’t see what happens on his doorstep. This poor man on the doorstep by the way has a name. And this is special. It is so special because in all the parables Jesus tells no one ever gets a name. The lost son has no name. The sower has no name. No one else ever gets named in the parables except for Lazarus. He is the only one who doesn’t remain anonymous. Lazarus is his name, which means: God helps ...
The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is a story about not seeing what happens so very nearby. The first time that the rich man mentions Lazarus’ name is when he asks out of inferno: “Father Abraham, have mercy on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.”

Our opening prayer included this:
In the midst the hierarchies of our society,
We celebrate you for your creation of equals.
In the midst the abuse of power and money,
We celebrate you for your gift of justice.

Full text of the sermon here. Liturgy from this morning here.

Translation of custard

As you can imagine we are still finishing off trifle ... but there is a linguistic problème à résoudre. If the French for mustard is moutarde why is it that the French for custard is not coutarde but crème anglaise?

Sunday, 13 July 2008

A mere trifle ...

At our party yesterday, Dr B. produced four different kinds of "trifle" for the guests, and by special request he has contributed the following post:

For the uninitiated, a "trifle" is a dessert of cream, fruit, and that most English of ingredients, custard (of which more below). There's a recipe at the bottom of the post for the classic raspberry trifle and ideas on some trifle variations. The Italians have a recipe for a trifle-like dessert called "Zuppa Inglesa", but calling a trifle "English soup" seems to lose something in translation. "Trifle" means something of little consequence, a bagatelle, but on the other hand, to warn someone not to trifle with something, is suggesting they keep out.

Trifle making, despite its name, is a serious business, the first recipe apparently appearing in 1596, and almost since the beginning there has been a fierce argument as to whether trifle should also also have "jelly" (jell-o) - it's a kind of English North-South divide (northerners tend to have jelly, and southerners not), but that might also be a class thing as traditionally the lower middle class has jelly, while the upper middle class certainly does not.

The key ingredient, however, is custard. Custard is a peculiarly British fabrication, being made out a a strange powder that magically transforms milk into a sort of light yellow vanilla sauce, a little like (surprise, surprise) a French creme anglaise, though somewhat thicker in consistency. The British when making trifle will almost invariably make their custard from Bird's Custard Powder, where the skill lies in juggling the proportion of custard powder to milk to ensure that the resulting custard has a firm enough consistency to hold the trifle together, but without becoming a yellow coloured sweet brick (The recipe on the tin says to use two tablespoons of custard powder to 580 ml milk, but Dr B would add an extra half tablespoon or so to thicken it up). A number of supermarkets in the Geneva region stock Bird's Custard Power (such as Champion in Ferney) . For a quick trifle, or if it is not possible to track down the custard powder), a pack of ready-made French Creme Anglaise can be used in its place, though the resulting trifle with have a softer texture than a classic English trifle. Alternatively, a custard can be made from scratch using milk. eggs, vanilla, and cornflour (Maizena).

Anyway, enough about custard, here's Dr B.'s recipe for the classic English raspberry trifle:

The recipe

* About 300 gr sponge or pound cake (Quatre quarts) (but cakes such as Madeleines (Magdalenas), or raspberry Swiss roll (roulade) from Migros are fine too)
* 300 gr raspberries (frozen raspberries are fine)
* 4-6 tablespoons of spirits (sherry is traditional, but crème de framboise make an excellent variation with this recipe - can also be substituted if no sherry is available)
* 580 ml "custard" (see above, a ready-made Creme Anglaise can be used instead, but the trifle will have a softer consistency)
* 500 ml whipping cream
* a handful of flaked almonds
* a little sugar
* a little raspberry jam

If using plain sponge, then cut the cake into slices, or halve the Madeleines, and spread with a little raspberry jam - no need to do this, though, if using the Swiss roll. Sprinkle a little sherry or Crème de Framboise over the sponge cake. Place raspberries on top, and sprinkle a little sugar on top according to taste to sweeten. (If you were to include jelly, now would be the time to add it) . Next pour the custard on top (if using frozen raspberries, wait until the raspberries have defrosted before doing this). If using hot custard, then wait, after pouring the custard on the raspberries, for the trifle to cool down until proceeding to the next step. Chill the trifle in the refrigerator. Meanwhile whip the cream until it is firm, fold in sugar to taste, and spoon on top of the custard. Sprinkle the sliced almonds on top to decorate.

Some variations:

Blackforest Trifle: Replace the sponge cake with plain chocolate cake, spread with Black Cherry Jam, or a chocolate roulade from Migros, and use tinned or frozen black cherries instead of the raspberries. Decorate the cream with chocolate chips, instead of the sliced almonds, and a few cherries.

Summer Trifle: Use mixed berries instead of the raspberries.

Peach or apricot trifle: Replace the raspberries with peaches or apricots, apricots are good because they have a slight kick, and replace the raspberry jam on the sponge cake with apricot jam.

As they say in the trade, don't trifle with a trifle.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

We're having a party

Friday, 11 July 2008

Signs of the kingdom - hand the keys of the world back to God

Today Rabbi Guedj explained some basic aspects of the Jewish faith, talking to the group of young people who have this week started the inter-religious seminar at the Bossey Ecumenical Institute. Talking about the idea behind sabbath he said it was about handing the keys of the world back to the God, about human beings for one day a week not trying to change the world. This resonated with me. Some Calvinist churches are amongst the strictist observers of the Christian day of rest - there's even a Reformed Church in the Netherlands who have a special message on their website saying that it too has a Sabbath and will be back to consult on Monday. This is not the tradition I grew up with but when I return to the country of my birth these days I am still a little shocked by the 24/7 culture and the roads packed with traffic every day.
So today, handing the keys back to God was my sign of the kingdom, it made me think of a short phrase I think by Barth: "Es wird Regiert" - God is governing or the world is governed. There is no need for continual striving to achieve.

Meanwhile the other kingdom signs bloggers are all still writing and Georgina has just started her kingdom journal here (think of her as she takes her year two resits); Regina is journaling here; Phil is journaling here;Judy is journaling here; Viv is journaling here; Allan is journaling here; and beyond New Zealand Eleanor is journaling here; Dan is journaling here; Steve's outline can be found: introduction here, instructions here and here

Signs of the kingdom in Jewish thought

I was at the beautiful Chateau de Bossey yesterday on a perfect day with glorious vews across lake Geneva to Europe's highest mountain, Mont Blanc. It always lifts my spirits to see it rising into the clouds - rather than hidden by rain.
I was there to interpret for Rabbi Marc Raphael Guedj and I realised what a privilege it is to get exposed to such food for thought in my day job. Rabbi Guedj was talking to an interreligious seminar of young people meeting in Bossey for the next month or so. You can't really take notes and interpret simultaneously (well I can't anyway) so I have to be content with the few ideas that remain in my mind afterwards.
At one point talking about the Sabbath Guedj spoke about how the letter of observance and the spirit of observance need to go together and he repeated an idea by Emmanuel Levinas that the letter is the closed wing of the spirit. I can see that as I write this I'm not explaining very well why this struck such a chord with me, but it was a beautiful image and a real sign of God's kingdom yesterday.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Specially for Calvin's 499th birthday ...

We've already bought Budvar for our party on Saturday but I love this slogan, on this special range of beers named after John Calvin, "To be consumed even outside hours of worship."
There's a wonderful little video of Calvin drinking this local Genevan brew which is rather sweet but I shall have to ask Lac19 for some help in tracking it down - and I'm not allowed to link to his blog so you can't go there and search yourselves. Actually Dr B has now tracked it down here, it ends with the splendid phrase "in birae predestinas".
Anyway in case you think this is a rather frivolous approach to the great reformer of Geneva I should add that today I also attended the launch by the World Alliance of Reformed Churches of a new book on the relevance of Calvin's social and economic ideas in the 21st century, and a beautiful calligraphy calendar by Bridget Dommen. Both in honour of the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth in a year's time. I'll say something more about book and calendar when I can provide links .. oh, and did I say, today is the 499th birthday of Calvin!
In the meantime, cheers!

Church of Norway welcomes women bishops vote

I've just posted to the docs session the press release from the Church of Norway which welcomes the Church of England.
It includes this:
The gender of ordained ministers cannot be a criterion of the church’s apostolicity. On the contrary, the admittance of women to all levels of ordained ministry has contributed significantly to the full expression of God’s mission in the world. As affirmed by the Lutheran World Federation in 2007, “limiting the ordained ministry to men obscures the nature of the church as a sign of our reconciliation and unity in Christ through baptism across the divides of ethnicity, social status and gender (cf. Gal. 3:27-28).”

Translation, theology and ideology

Over recent weeks I have been following Suzanne Mccarthy's brilliant, extraordinary and committed posts on complementarian and egalitarian views of men and women and how biblical passages and their translations are used to support the complementarian view -which is also sometimes called the "order of creation" view. Suzanne posts regularly on Suzanne's Bookshelf and on the Better Bibles Blog and I'm in awe of her errudition and commitment.

As I read about the Church of England's general synod debate on women bishops today I wonder whether some solid biblical work of the kind Suzanne and her colleagues at the Better Bibles Blog are involved in wouldn't have helped.
However, I'm beginning to feel pretty naive, I really didn't think that Bruce Ware's style of exegesis was taken seriously anymore. It would seem spousal abuse is ok if you're Christian and are being violent in the name of the Bible.
I am speechless and felt rather sick listening to the podcast - but it is heartening to see that the comments on the post now number over 1600 - and many of them are by egalitarians, urged on by Suzanne.
Then I heard about an African book book called How to beat your wife and How to beat your wife 2 - as you'll see from the Anglican Church of Kenya's publishing house the series also includes how to beat your husband, your children and your in laws - you'll need to scroll most of the way down on the link to find them. I havn't read these books and maybe the content is anodyne - though the book on children refers to the "holy rod" - but certainly I find the titles shocking.
I can see where Suzanne's commitment to promoting real understanding of the original texts comes from. A biblical text badly translated and interpretted can create real pain and suffering.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Spirituality for everyday life - a guest post from Dr B.

At a time when much of the attention is on women bishops in the Church of England, Margot Kässmann, Lutheran bishop in Hanover (who said she was delighted by the general synod vote and looked forward to having her first female colleague in the Church of England), has just had the English edition of her book, "With Hearts, Hands and Voices: Spirituality for Everyday Life", published by the World Council of Churches. Against the background of the spiritual resources of the Bible, worship, prayer and song, the book explores the diversity of spiritual opportunities open to individuals or groups. Using examples from the past and from the present day, the book is an encouragement to hold together the tension between hope and struggle, prayer and action, the life of faith and responsibility for the world. "Spirituality is nourished," she notes, "by the sources of our fathers and mothers in faith, and at the same time cannot be imprisoned by boundaries of tradition because it develops new forms and dynamics along the way."
Over the front door of the manse on the island of Hiddensee in the Baltic Sea - an island where motor transport is banned - is an inscription that she says brilliantly expresses the tension between God's gift and our responsibility: "God is the wind and the waves. But the rudder and sails that bring you safe to harbour are your own." Christian spirituality will motivate us and offer us opportunities, but always points back into the world; "it doesn’t pull us away from the here and now, but rather opens up opportunities for life and action. This kind of spirituality strengthens our faith and gives balance to our life in order that we can speak up for truth and justice." And she writes:

In many ways spirituality has become an ecumenical concept which points to the future, not least because spirituality helps us to stand in strength alongside our sisters and brothers all over the world. It makes the strong willing to stand up for the weak, and helps the weak know that they have not been left lost and alone, but that they are a part of the family of the children of God. This kind of spirituality gives people the power and the courage to confront injustice and violence instead of simply acquiescing to the status quo … The World Council of Churches assembly in Nairobi in 1975 spoke of a 'spirituality for combat'. Nowadays, we might find this concept a little harsh: spirituality and combat seem to us to be opposites. But if combat means gaining the strength to fight against destruction and violence, against the complete domination of the market, against alienation, then the idea does have meaning for today. We need a spirituality that enables us to resist evil.

Margot Kässmann, "With Hearts, Hands and Voices: Spirituality for Everyday Life", Geneva: WCC Publications, ISBN-13: 978-2825415221.

Links to WCC Publications and to Amazon.

Windows of vulnerability - a kingdom sign

A window of vulnerability was a term used to describe a hole in a defence system during the time of debates about star wars. It's also a term used by Dorothee Sölle as the title of a book developing a political spirituality. In German Sölle used the phrase Fenster der Verwundbarkeit - not just vulnerability but also ability to be wounded. The book has a section entitled - security is death something for our security obsessed age.
I have been thinking about vulnerability and strength today - how vulnerable and how strong is God asking me to be? How strong and how vulnerable are we called to be as communities? People have talked to me about their pain and frustration, showed me their vulnerability. Does voicing those concerns, vulnerabilities and fears give people strength in some way? Does the listening one become more vulnerable? There's a power for my spirituality in the juxtaposition of these two seeming opposites.
I haven't arrived at any answers, but allowing myself time to muse on this has been my sign of the kingdom today: an understanding that God is both strong and vulnerable and that we who are created in God's image also have these qualities.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Delighted at women's leadership

I'm pleased to say I shall never be a bishop (I'm sure others are also heaving a noisy sigh of relief at the idea too!) but I did by pure chance wear purple today as did my friend Nyambura, the first woman to be ordained in her church in Kenya. The ecumenical context is not one where you can be too noisily joyful about ordination of women to the priesthood or the episcopate.
Yet one of the things I am proud of my own church for is that it was the first Christian denomination to ordain women in Britain - in 1917, a year before women in Britain had the vote.
At the end of this week the United Reformed Church will also hold its synod, or General Assembly, in Edinburgh, for the first time with a woman, the Revd Roberta Rominger, as general secretary. The book of reports even expresses concern that with the retirement of many of our current group of moderators - those people in the denomination appointed to something similar to episcopal oversight - it is possible that we will not have any other women moderators for a while. Resolution 12 on page 220 of the book of reports says this:
The United Reformed Church, despite it commitment to women's ministry has been unable to achieve equality of opportunity, proper gender equality and participation by women at all levels of the Church's life. therefore Genreal Assembly instructs its equal opportunites and nominations committees to work together to discover the theological, cultural and structural reasons why this is the case. Assembly requests that procedures and policies to address this imbalance be brought to the 2010 General Assembly.

This evening, reading blogs like Anglican Wanderings by Andrew Teather, who seems a nice enough sort of person with whom I would probably disagree about almost everything to do with our common Christian faith, I realised once more how very different this church of Christ is from the one I am a minister of. Even though I know, understand and appreciate the Church of England's liturgy, I really do not understand its culture of debate and decision-making. I do however recommend Andrew's blog for it's cogent and up to date news of what part of the Anglo Catholic Church is thinking and feeling. He reports this for instance:
"Bishop Burnham, one of two "flying bishops" in the province of Canterbury, has made a statement asking Pope Benedict XVI and the English Catholic bishops for "magnanimous gestures" that will allow traditionalists to become Catholics en masse. He is confident that this will happen, following talks in Rome with Cardinal Levada, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Cardinal Kasper, the Vatican's head of ecumenism. He was accompanied on his visit by the Rt Rev Keith Newton, Bishop of Richborough, the other Canterbury "flying bishop", who is expected to follow his example. Bishop Burnham hopes that Rome will offer special arrangements whereby former Anglicans can stay worshipping in parishes under the guidance of a Catholic bishop. Most of these parishes already use the Roman liturgy, but there may be provision for Anglican prayers if churches request it. Anglican priests who are already married will not be barred from ordination as priests, though Bishop Burnham would not be able to continue in episcopal orders, as he is married and there is an absolute bar on married bishops in the Roman and Orthodox Churches."

Tonight I shall meditate on pain, the pain expressed by those priests who wept in open session, who feel their world is crumbling, that they are no longer at home in the church they loved and built. Many of them are the same priests who also inflicted pain and repeatedly made the point of not accepting the authority of the woman presiding at the eucharist but neverthless knelt at the altar and closed their hands so as not to receive the elements. This happened for instance to Canon Lucy Winkett at St Paul's Cathedral and many women colleagues have mentioned experiencing something similar. Perhaps some of those clerks in holy orders would say that they were duty bound to attend, that they felt they had to be there in order to experience the pain of such an event. I cannot help feeling that this is sexist power politics masquerading as personal and communal displayed and public pain. Just because people feel pain, are upset, angry or feel excluded does not necessarily mean that they are right - and of course I realise that works both ways.
Rowan Williams said in the debate that Christ would stand with those on both sides of the debate in their pain. The current Archbishop of Canterbury is a man of deep spirituality and learning and I understand what he was trying to say as he expressed it like that, but for once I really disagree, even as I pray for him during these difficult days.
Christ I think will have been rather busier standing alongside the pain of those suffering pain in Darfur, Zimbabwe, Burma ...; with the families of young people knifed on the streets of London, of women sold into prostitution, of the refugees ...

God of infinite grace
send us your spirit of consolation and commitment,
renew us to preach Christ's gospel
that your kingdom may come
and your love abound


Signs of the kingdom - in municipal roundabouts

On my six-monthly bus trip to see my neurologist I travelled through a mainly urban landscape. Even Calvin's city has urban amd industrial sprawl and it's not very inspiring. Walking through St Julien I found myself taking pleasure in the small urban municipal gardens that had been planted in what had previously been a drab concreted end of a street.
Looking at the flowers there and on the roundabouts, the care for the urban environment spoke to me of our need to take care together for the places we live in.
The flowers in the bits of municipal gardens I travelled through said something to me about how communities of human beings need to care for one another, it isn't enough to just be individuals living in the same place, we need theatres, gardens, sports halls and squares to bring us together. Human beings are made to be in relationship. Building community is a bit like gardening - you're not quite sure whether the flowers and plants will survive, nurture, water and weeding are constantly needed.
As I looked at the flowers I thought of the biblical story of the woman with her bottle of perfume. The kingdom is about grace, perfume and blossom; about daring to plant gardens in the concrete jungle; to offer something beautiful.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Women bishops or not?

So the Church of England general synod is debating whether and how to have women bishops. Judging from what those writing from the debating chamber are jotting down it may take a while ... as it happens I am thinking of the Anglican women I did my theological training with. Several of them would make excellent bishops. One will be too old by the time the legislation does go through - if it goes through, I feel sad as I think of the wasted leadership this implies for the church. Reading some of the discussions I realise that Anglicanism has a very different culture of debate to the French Reformed Church where the word "compromise" is a dirty word!

The links that follow - including Bishop Alan's sterling piece in favour of women bishops - are taken from Dave Walker's Church Times blog:

Ruth Gledhill of the Times is blogging live from York.
"Christina Rees of St Albans, and leader of Women and the Church, said: 'We are voting on going forward on woman as bishops. Three years ago synod voted to remove legal obstacles to women as bishops. Two years ago synod voted that women bishops were consonant with the faith of our church... Anything that distinguishes between bishops in our church is bound to make one set of bishops different.' This was for the sake of unity, of dioceses and of the Anglican understanding of what it is to be a bishop. What kind of church do we want to be? 'One that says yes to God calling women as He calls men, yes to a Church that ordains women fully as it ordains men. Unless we remove any doubt that they are as fully bishops as are males, some doubt will remain.'"
Peter Owen has posted the amendments and is blogging the result of each vote as they come in - scroll down the page for the latest.
The General Synod blog keep on updating with interesting bits and pieces.
Andrew Teather at Anglican Wanderings thinks it is likely that there won't be a result tonight owing to the number of amendments (sixteen).
Mark Russell of the Church Army gives us his thoughts from the public gallery.
Bishop Alan has written:
"No system of pockets within which gender based discrimination is OK can cut any ice missionally. Pragmatically, perhaps you can abolish racial discrimination in Alabama but keep a few all white buses, or all-white drivers. On every other level, it just don’t make sense.That’s the mountain our so-called traditionalist friends have to climb, and sincerely I wish them good luck with it. I can’t join them on the climb, because I believe passionately in the Church’s mission, and at the heart of that is the building of a kingdom in which there is neither male nor female, slave nor free, but all are called to be one in Christ Jesus. Period."

Mugabe and the churches

There is a link here to an excellent article by Steve Kibble in this weeks New Statesmen which looks at the complex relationship between Mugabe and the churches in Zimbabwe. It doesn't make very comfortable reading for anyone who believes in speaking the truth to power but it shows how difficult it is for any form of civil society to organise under authoritarian rule.

"After a number of pastoral statements calling for an end to violence and poverty, but not apportioning blame, a turning point came in April 2007 when the Catholic Bishops’ Conference issued a statement. “God Hears the Cry of the Oppressed” squarely blamed the Mugabe government for spiralling inflation, rampant food shortages and widespread intimidation. The ZANU-PF response? Use of its youth militias to stop the pastoral letter being read out to congregations, threats against the clergy, and a successful campaign to remove leading ZANU-PF critic Pius Ncube, the Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo."

In the same issue there's also an article by Gerry Simpson of Human Rights Watch on the long term torture many Zimbabwean refugees have been coping with for years.
"Grace lives in Johannesburg and, like hundreds of Zimbabweans tortured by Robert Mugabe’s “war veterans” and youth militia since the March 2008 elections she is struggling to survive. But Grace is not one of the recently tortured. Instead, her story reflects the reality for millions of Zimbabweans and speaks to eight years of political repression and economic destruction next door."

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Blessed are the cheesemakers ...

One of the joys of living in the centre of Ferney is being a few moments walk away from the Fromagerie Michelin shop just off the main street. The role of cheese in French life and cuisine is difficult to understand until you've lived in the country for a while. Even the simplest of family meals will normally involve a cheese course served before desert.
Michelin is both a fromager and more importantly an affineur of cheese. They make a wonderful Jura cheese which comes in its own small wooden box, and is soft and runny - best served with a spoon. It's also fabulous baked in the oven and spooned over potatoes, much easier than fondue.
But Michelin also ripen and store cheeses, specialising in cheese from small producers. They stock a bleu de Termignon from the end of summer until late spring - this amazing cheese from the alpine meadows of the neighbouring département has only four people still making it and goes naturally blue as a result of the special herbs and flowers the small herds of cows feed off. They also stock cheese from the Netherlands, Italy and Spain, and even Stilton, Shropshire blue and cheddar from Britain. The local yoghurts, cream, eggs and goats cheese are delicious as well. The smell when you go into the shop is a bit of an assault on the senses but it's fun to take time making up your mind about which ones you want try - even if the bill is a bit of an assault on the bank balance.
And for those of you looking for the quote from Monty Python's Life of Brian here it is. There seems even to be a novel with the quote as its title.

Radio four's food Programme

I've been a fan of BBC Radio 4's food programme for years - actually that should probably read decades, the programme will be 30 years old next year, as this interview with the former presenter Derek Cooper for the 20th anniversary indicates! Today's programme, presented by the wonderful Sheila Dillon, included fascinating interviews about writers who have tried to change our philosophy and practice of food (I've listed some of the books at the end of this post).
To my delight I discovered that you can also listen to past episodes of the programme, it is always a thought-provoking mix of politics, recipes, and reflections about farming and taste. Unfortunately the wonderful programme about the food of Ethiopia from some years ago is not online, broadcast before the age of podcasts. However, I can listen again to the programme on waiters, which was a damning condemnation of the way waiters in Britain are paid. It ended by holding up France as a real example of how to properly train and pay waiting staff. I also intend to listen to the programme about African food security.

Thomas Tryon - Wisdom’s Dictates; or, aphorisms and rules, physical, moral, and divine; for preserving the health of the body, and the peace of the mind ... To which is added a Bill of Fare of seventy five noble dishes of excellent food (1691).

Honey from a Weed: Fasting and Feasting in Tuscany, Catalonia, the Cyclades and Apulia
by Patience Gray, published by Papermac, ISBN-10: 0333455045, ISBN-13: 978-0333455043.

Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe, published by Ballantine Books Inc, ISBN-10: 345321200, ISBN-13: 978-0345321206.

Future Food: politics, philosophy and recipes for the 21st Century by Colin Tudge, published by Harmony Books ISBN-10: 0517541300, ISBN-13: 978-0517541302.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Weekly summary - signs of the kingdom

Reflecting on the week and on what I'm beginning to perceive about where God may be at work in my life and the life of the communites I am part of. (If you read the instructions here you will notice that I am not quite following them properly yet - perhaps next week.)

Personally, thinking more consciously about kingdom signs, small flutters of something new happening, helps me stay in touch with some of the emotions and contradictions of being a believer who would like to be more of a disciple. I'm not comfortable always speaking or writing about the personal ways I perceive God - after all why should God be over concerned about a rich, fat, forty-something woman worrying about the meaning of life. At sometime this week - maybe around my birthday - I briefly recognised that being down on myself is not a sign of the kingdom - but perhaps that recognition was a tiny flutter! Meanwhile I started the week by preaching about how precious each of us is for God. Occasionally I should perhaps listen!
Sometimes at work we joke as to whether Protestant or Catholic guilt is more difficult to cope with. Reflecting on looking for signs of the kingdom I realise I spend alot of time feeling guilty - that I haven't done enough to save the world, be a better person, follow the way ... Be my guilt confessional or ecumenical it's not a great motivator or energiser and can make me over-judgemental of myself and others. Christ's message is pure grace and acceptance and I find it hard to receive that sometimes.
But thinking about things from a kingdom perspective has made me realise also that the continual weaving of stories of hope is essential to my being. Hope has been planted deep within me and I give profound thanks for that.
As I reflect on kingdom signs more communally, I see hope - in church and civil society pressure leading the German printing company to finally stop supplying Mugabe's government with more and more worthless paper money; in the colleagues gathering week in week out to share about what is happening in Zimbabwe itself; in the small groups which meet for prayer in the congregation; in the person who has taken in the 17 year-old son of a friend who has died; in the music-makers gathering to sing even when their voices are not many; in the letter writers who try to assure prisoners of conscience they are not forgotten ...
And as a work team we came together to celebrate community in the pouring rain in a cold tent and one colleague who couldn't be there carefully prepared lollypops for all the children, that spoke of warmth even as the wind blew and the rain streamed and the barbecue took forever to heat up.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Advocacy for the people of Zimbabwe - continue to pray

ENI has reported on the German government having brought pressure to bear on the private company which had been providing the bank notes fuelling Zimbabwe's rampant 164,000% inflation rate:

"We are delighted that the printing company Giesecke & Devrient has taken into account the concerns of ecumenical organizations and civil society," the Rev. Michael Wallace, general secretary of the WSCF, told Ecumenical News International on 2 July. "The money printed had been helping to prop up the ruling elite of an illegitimate regime, who are using it to crush ordinary Zimbabweans." Wallace said that the action of the company showed how Christian groups working with civil society could play an effective role in bringing about justice."

Meanwhile Simon Barrow has an excellent piece in his latest Wardman Wire on how politics needs grace as well as power. It ends with some of his reminiscences of visits to the WCC Assembly in Harare ten years ago by Robert Mugabe and Nelson Mandela:

"During Mandela’s 90th birthday celebrations in London and elsewhere, many people shared moments of encounter with him that made a lasting impact on them. I will conclude with mine. Ten years ago I was in Harare, Zimbabwe, attending the 9th General Assembly of the World Council of Churches. Two figures were mandatory for the occasion, conducted in a large assembly hall holding five thousand people. One was a speech by the president and the other was a visit by Madiba, as Mr Mandela is affectionately known by his people.
Mugabe arrived with a phalanx of armoured vehicles, and an air of great self-importance as he marched to the front. He was greeted with restrained applause (polite, verging on the cold) and proceeded to give a lengthy, humourless, haranguing speech. It went down badly and neatly summarised the demagogic tragedy that was already well and truly enfolding Zimbabwe.
Nelson Mandela arrived, at the beginning of the session, with a couple of modest bodyguards. He chatted and greeted people informally as he walked down the aisle and was received with a standing ovation, whoops of joy and spontaneous singing. He spoke for around 15 minutes, but somehow made everyone there feel that they were being personally addressed. He said that he was grateful to his missionary educators for instilling a sense of justice in him and to the WCC for its strong commitment against apartheid. He would, he said, have come to give these thanks earlier, “but, as you will understand, I was unavoidably detained” – a reference to 27 years on Robben Island.
“When I came out of prison”, he said (I am quoting from memory, rather than from a text), “an attractive young woman came up and threw her arms around me. Then she stood back and looked hard at me. ‘Madiba’, she said. ‘You used to be young and handsome. Now you are old and not so attractive!’ … I imagine that you may well be thinking something like this too, as I stand before you many years after I had wished to. But I am sure you will be a bit more polite, and not express your feelings so directly!”
It was a delightfully self-deprecating (but also rather knowing) moment. The journalist sitting next to me, who could not usually be accused of lacking cynicism, leaned over and observed, “If more leaders could have just a fraction of this naked humanity, politics might feel very different.” Quite."

The Lutheran World Federation, whose general secretary Ishmael Noko comes from Zimbabwe have issued a very strong statement at their recent council meeting in Arusha Tanzania:
"We especially denounce the systematic, organized, politically-motivated intimidation and violence whereby the current government has sought to retain power. We note that the perpetrators of that intimidation and violence have not hesitated to target church leaders and clergy, as well as opposition party leaders and members, media representatives, academics, specific groups within Zimbabwean society, and anyone thought to have voted for the opposition in the 29 March elections. The attacks on Zimbabweans for exercising their right of democratic choice are directly contrary to the purpose of the struggle for Zimbabwe’s liberation from colonial rule."

The LWF is also calling on its member churches to have a day of prayer for peace with justice for Zimbabwe and its people this Sunday July 6th.

The photo shows campaigners at an ecumenical prayer vigil for Zimbabwe at the end of June outside the UN in Geneva. Copyright (c) Peter Williams/ WCC.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Geneva rainbow

Tonight was the night of the communications barbecue. The heavens opened, the temperatures fell. We were able to wash the fruit and tomatoes in the heavy rain - but it was not great for playing frisbee or keeping warm. Then just as we were clearing up the skies cleared and we saw this in the skies - a perfect double rainbow.

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Sign of the kingdom ~ Be still and know that I am God ...

Perhaps a strange quote as I reflect on a day of champagne, sunflowers, croissants and silly cards from family and friends.
One single perfect pale pink pentecost rose (the literal translation of a peony from French into English) remains from my Saturday market flowers, it perfumes the corner of the room with a gentle, calming scent. Less reserved red and yellow birthday bouquets greet me at home and at work lighting up the space with colour and vibrancy.
In the midst of working, doing things and planning these flowers, their perfume and vibrancy, offer me the chance to contemplate and appreciate beauty, to be still and know that God is. (Psalm 46. 10)

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

From the train traveller's husband

Birthdays and mortality

Yes it's that day in the year again ...

What now for Zimbabwe?

This graphic is from the Kubatana website, you can reach their social activism columns here.
Visit Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights here and Women of Zimbabwe arise here.
Keep praying ... for justice, goodness and what is right.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Eileen Brown OBE

My truly extraordinary mother in law not only goes on the Aldermaston 50th anniversary peace march, sets up charities for children and child health workers in Romania, but is also in today's Daily Mail - she has been reported as saying rather primly, "Not a newspaper I would normally read."
The article is all about her nursing reminisences for the 60th anniversary of the NHS. You can read her full memoirs about training to be a nurse here.

Signs of the kingdom in letting go

So, on Monday I preach about not letting go, about holding on to hope and today I see signs of the kingdom in learning to let go. Fortunately I like being spoken to in this sort of way, I don't see it as contradictory more as a form of counterpoint - like in a musical canon when opposing parts of music are sung against one another but actually create harmony not discord.

Letting go is not always easy for me. I'm a committed and passionate person, I enjoy work and people and details and words and systems and politics ... it's not always easy to step back and take time out. I'm not good at pacing myself.

In recent months I've been dipping in and out of Emilie Griffin's book Doors into Prayer and I keep coming back in recent days to this bit entitled letting go:
"Well-intentioned prayer is not a matter of striving for perfection. Because we have spent much of our lives trying to earn love, to qualify for approval, to deserve affection, we may now have to unlearn our usual assumptions. Now we must relax and let go, to be lifted on an ocean-swell of grace ... authentic prayer begins when we turn ourselves over to God ... this resting in God is not a matter of doing but of undoing."

Thinking about letting go and how hard it is I've also been reading the journals of the Opawa kingdom bloggers, inspired by Steve Taylor's idea to open ourselves up to seeing signs of the kingdom. We are each very involved and tied up in our own lives, yet somehow being open to flutters of the kingdom in however small a way helps to open me up to other realities. It helps me both hold on and let go.

Regina is journaling here; Phil is journaling here;Judy is journaling here; Viv is journaling here; Allan is journaling here; and beyond New Zealand Eleanor is journaling here; Dan is journaling here; Steve's outline can be found: introduction here, instructions here and here

Living letters goes to Germany and blogs on overcoming violence

The biblical inspiration behind the living letters visits of the WCC's Decade to Overcome Violence is clearly "and you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts." (2 Cor. 3.3 NRSV)
There's a link here to a blog written by two members of the Living Letters team currently visiting Germany.
The idea of a letter as an image of the church is one I like - perhaps this would need to be translated for today as an email, blogpost, facebook or twitter update ... now I wonder what the Greek for facebook might be?