Friday, 31 October 2008

Reformation Day from struggle to reconciliation

Throughout this week Simone Sinn who works in the Lutheran World Federation's department of theology and studies has offered powerful times of prayer and reflection at the beginning of each day - always accompanied by a religious painting.
Today we reflected on the story of the reconciliation between Esau and Jacob, which is pictured here at the centre of the Pax Christi Icon of reconciliation from Jerusalem.
But we read the whole of the passage prior to the scene of reconciliation between the two brothers in which Jacob wrestles all night with God and is only let go when wounded in his hip and blessed (Genesis 32.22 - 33). I think it was the first time I had heard either story read aloud with the other in an act of worship. I must check to see how the readings are used in various lectionaries. Suddenly I saw that wrestling with God is clearly set within the context of reconciliation. It's wonderful how you can read the Bible for years and still get fresh insights in this way.
Simone then said that the church is in many ways about offering a space for people to wrestle and struggle with God so as to find the courage for the way forwards to reconciliation.
We also read a strong statement from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe, showing a church seeking clearly to wrestle with the issues of its own context and seek a clear path for justice and reconciliation in the future.

Praying for Congo

I've been reading this article in the New York Times on the terrible prevalence of rape in Congo which United Nations officials have called the worst sexual violence in the world.
At the same time as being very moved by the stories of women who have survived rape "speaking out" and breaking the silence about the terrible burden they live with, I am also saddened and profoundly disturbed at our seeming helplessness to transform the poverty and culture of violence all people in Congo are living with.
Next week the Ecumenical Prayer Cycle invites churches around the world to pray for Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. As we pray for the survivors of war, genocide and desperate violence in these countries - especially as that violent cycle again takes hold in Congo - I shall especially pray for a transformation in attitudes and behaviour towards women. I shall also give thanks for people like Eve Ensler, the American playwright who wrote “The Vagina Monologues,”. She went to Congo last month to work with rape victims and the article reports her as saying:

“I have spent the past 10 years of my life in the rape mines of the world,” she said. “But I have never seen anything like this.”

She calls it “femicide,” a systematic campaign to destroy women.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Zimbabwe - Kairos and prophetic action

Methodist Bishop Levee Kadenge, the convenor of the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance, was in Geneva this week. The mission of the Christian alliance is is to work to resolve the crisis in Zimbabwe by bringing about social transformation through prophetic action. Ecumenical News International has an article about the bishop, who has been detained five times by security officials. In the article, Bishop Kadenge was asked why he thought so many church leaders had remained silent while Zimbabweans had suffered. "I think it is a question of fear ... If that means they are silent and they choose to be, that is their choice," Kadenge said. "But they can go for it. Truth bearers are not often welcome. The scriptures say so."

In 1988, Bishop Kadenge chaired Ecumenical Support Services, the group that drew up the Zimbabwe Kairos Document in advance of the World Council of Churches assembly in Harare. That document contained trenchant criticism of the record of President Mugabe's ruling ZANU (PF) party, and was also critical of some of Zimbabwe's churches, stating that while some churches "have constantly challenged injustice, both before and after independence, many have failed to educate their members about abuses of power by authorities". Ten years after the Kairos document, Zimbabwe remains gripped by a political and economic crisis. Launched in February 2006, the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance is an association of like-minded Christian leaders in Zimbabwe who feel called by God to be instrumental in resolving the Zimbabwean crisis through non-violence. The bishop was asked during his visit in Geneva if he also was not afraid to speak out. "Yes I fear. God yes, I fear, I am a human being. I'm afraid. That does not stop me doing what I have to do," he said. "That is the difference ... But I'm convinced there is a bigger force beyond me that takes care of those things."

Photo (c) Peter Kenny/ENI

Meanwhile the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) and the Association of Protestant missions (EMW) have issued a prayer for Zimbabwe, so far only in German.

Benita Joswig's Books writing art project comes to Geneva

Benita Joswig’s Books Writing art project is a transnational writing project and all next week from 3 to 7 November it will be housed in the chapel of the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva. Benita Joswig will preach at our service next Monday.

The projects involves ten still partly unwritten books and is an experiment calling upon the writing power of interested individuals from a variety of social backgrounds and situations. Those of us who work in the centre and people from local churches will be invited to write and read in the books. It sounds quite a challenge.

The ten books have different titles which were developed by teachers and students at New York’s Union Theological Seminary/Columbia University and Philipps-Universität Marburg, Germany. The individual book titles reappear as chapter subtitles in the books, so that each book contains the titles of all the other books.

The titles are:
Blut / blood

Farbe / colour

Grenze / border

heilen / healing

ich / me

Lust / joy

reich / rich

Stadt / city

warten / waiting

Worte / words

What I find particularly interesting is that the books are handwritten. They are time capsules, living recordings of different voices but in written form. At the end of each book there is a list of authors which those writing can add their names to. Joswig says:
In a digitally defined world, handwriting becomes an unusual form of expression. Reading unfamiliar handwriting may constitute an act of deciphering, of entering into the handwriting of another person, of coming to grips with a strange text and of continuing it and adding one’s own thoughts. What will remain is a series of books, a handwritten micro-library, a network document, a register on paper, sensual and thoroughly thought over.
Art projects are visible inscriptions, three-dimensional figures, moving collages, fields of action which upset customary patterns and hopefully encourage new decipherings of meaning.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Discernment in the wilderness ...

Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘I am going to rain bread from heaven for you

The house of Israel called it manna; it was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.

This morning we had an interesting Bible study on Exodus 16: the Hebrews in the desert complaining to Moses and Aaron about not having enough food and things having been so much better next to the fleshpots of Egypt. We discussed the rather idealised idea of the supposed proximity to God in the desert wilderness - if you read the book of Exodus you can get the impression that it's almost a haranguing match between God, Moses and the People, that may not be the ideal of closeness with God most of us long for!
Yet in some ways the fleshpots of Egypt serve as a symbol of a far greater wilderness than even wandering in the desert for 40 years. A longing for the ease of past years, an idealisation of what being close to God may really mean.
All that makes discerning how God may be calling us complex and challenging. Are we being called to set out and dare to be liberated from the ease of consumerism? In an age of instant gratification are we willing to trust in a distant hope 40 yeras off?
I was interested to read that the bread of heaven looked like coriander seed and tasted of honey - perhaps giving the people in the desert a daily foretaste of the promise of the land of milk and honey. Sustenance for the wilderness journey.

Footwashing from Ethiopia

At our morning prayers this morning we listened to the reading of Christ washing his disciples feet in John's gospel and meditated this picture which Simone Sinn had brought back from a recent meeting in Ethiopia. We were intrigued by how Peter is the main figure in the picture and the eyes of all the disciples are on him - we also wondered about his white hair ...

A sixty second Bible

Thanks to Maggi Dawn for this which made me smile as I watched it late at night.

Monday, 27 October 2008

How to bring together theology and social justice?

At a fascinating and refreshing visit to the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches today, Thomas Wipf, the FEPS president, spoke passionately and honestly about the challenges for church and ecumenical organisations - how can we bring together advocacy and dialogue, theology and justice?
In small groups we discussed issues around communication, theology, ethics and migration.
FEPS is co-sponsoring an important meeting on migration churches as places of integration on Wednesday this week. I also find their idea of having a sort of alternative Davos meeting called the Open Forum Davos quite a creative approach. Given the reputation of Swiss banks worldwide it's good that the churches in the country have been working on issues of economics and justice for a long time.
The one phrase I have taken away from reflections with colleagues in Bern is the idea that good decisions create "open space" within which staff can work in confidence. We reflected alot on the issue of trust at my course in Rome last weekend and it was really interesting to have trust and decision-making linked together in what we heard today.
I came away with the strong sense that listening to others, discussing with them had helped us reflect better on our own work and also find new impetus for it. A good day, now we just need to go on trying to new ways to link advocacy, dialogue, theology and social justice.

Bishop Levee Kadenge in Geneva next week

Bishop Levee Kadenge, one of Zimbabwe's foremost theologians and humanrights defenders is on a short visit to Switzerland. On Tuesday 28 October(12:30pm - 2.00pm) he will give a presentation on the State of the Church in Zimbabwe and its Role in the Current Crisis. Venue: Salle 1, EcumenicalCentre, 150 route de Ferney.
At 2.30pm there will be a Press Briefing on the Powersharing Talks and Humanitarian Situation in Salle 1.
Rev Dr Kadenge is Convenor of the Christian Alliance of Zimbabwe and Director of the Institute for Theological Reflection and Liberation Today.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

I love living in France ... but ...

I do love living in France - almost everything about it. Yes I've even got used to the extraordinary bureaucratic way of thinking. However, I will I think never get used to French design and layout. The poster for the Calvin year is a case in point - in terms of graphic art where is it coming from? Hmm ... today is Reformation Sunday so I should mention Geneva's famous reformer Jean Calvin - even if Reformation Sunday is really in memory of Martin Luther.
Next week the Genevan church will launch its Calvin 2009 programme for next year's 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth. I'm pleased to say that the Swiss school of design is very different from the French school and much more to my taste.
And much more about Calvin soon.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

When you hear about a new wonder drug read the small print

So a potential new MS drug called Campath made the headlines this week and lots of friends and family talked to me about it. It's great to know people are thinking of you when they hear news of this kind. Interesting that it is often potential medical breakthroughs that are the "good news" stories in the media. Until being directly concerned I'd never thought much about this.
This week I was a bit shocked to discover that this potential new wonder drug which could perhaps reverse my symptoms, can also have very serious side effects -like a very increased likelihood of developing a serious thyroid disorder or "a rare blood condition called immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) that can lead to abnormal bleeding and even death. Six patients on Campath developed ITP during the trial, and one [of the 364] died."
Hmm ... so we're not quite there yet, although this new drug does promise great results for some people the real truth is that probably no drug will be a magic wand. People living with chronic illness and disease in countries with good health care systems are often faced with difficult decisions about their treatment and it's not easy stepping through the minefield of medical information. What would you do with odds of a 1 in 300 chance of death if there was also a 1 in 2 chance of you being able to walk normally again, and then balance that together with a 1 in 5 chance of developing the blood disorder and wondering whether living with MS is more bearable than that?
So behind the good news of brilliant medical advances, is the hard truth that most of us with the illness will continue with our current treatment and wait and see what happens next and what decisions our doctors will face us with. Writing this I realise what a huge privilege it is to benefit from the medecine I currently get. Perhaps I should direct some of the extra years of better health it gives me to campaigning for those who have no access to decent health care and medication.

Friday, 24 October 2008

The tower of Babel

At the end of the day today I had an intriguing conversation with a colleague about the tower of Babel. The story is only nine verses long but what is the myth about? Are we to understand that the various languages that exist on the earth are in some way a curse of a jealous and worried God preoccupied with his status?
In our conversation I said that it seemed to me that the story had a lot of different levels of myth wound into it. Was there really some idyllic past time when all human beings spoke the same language, when we really understood one another? Hmm ... I think not.
Then there is the myth of the single uniform project - the wonderful city and tower reaching up to the heavens. Human beings seemingly speaking the same language have projects that make them want to be like God - is this the message? Is the confusion of language a way of representing a confusion of human projects where human beings overreach their humanity and try to take on God's role? If we all start speaking a language which believes we are God then that language would need confusing and scattering perhaps.
In his seminal and much reworked text on language and interpretation, After Babel, George Steiner indicates that the language any of us use is only ever an approximation, to speak or write or interpret is "to translate" to some extent from thought, emotion and experience to approximate words. So a pre-existing single uniform language where people were able to communicate so effectively is an attractive idea but almost certainly a nonsense - we all know that speaking the same langauge doesn't necessarily mean we understand one another.
Of course we could take the story simply as a naive primitive way of explaining the number of languages in terms of divine intervention.
But it's also interesting that the story of the tower of Babel comes at the end of the stories of creation, the fall and the flood. Might we understand that tower-building uniformity is not part of God's plan but that confused linguistic diversity might be? I rather hope so.
So what are the towers of Babel we've been building today? Do we need a single uniform global market or are we allowed to imagine a more diverse, locally coloured internationally linked world economy?
Anyway for now here is the text.

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.’ The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. And the Lord said, ‘Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.’ So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.

On translation ...

As I try to write a few words about translation this week I came across this quote by that most prolific of authors, anonymous:

Many critics, no defenders,
translators have but two regrets:
when we hit, no one remembers,
when we miss, no one forgets.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Another ecodemocracy is possible

The advert in Le Monde for this made me smile. Let me be clear I am not going to read or buy this book, but it does sound interesting. A translation of the title would be "The New Ecological Politics" and the advert which made me smile ran "Une écodémocratie est possible entre l'imprévoyance écologique et la décroissance résignée". More details here. I have - at the time of writing - had rather too much wine to drink to attempt a clear translation of this but perhaps something along the lines of "An ecodemocracy is possible ..."
As Dr B is an economist perhaps he will be reading this and giving us a résumé on these pages - though I should not really encourage him to visit the book shop next door! I suspect the title to have been written before the recent world economic crisis - a French way of trying to say of course you can save the environment and still have economic growth. Anyway it's published by Seuil as part of their "République des idées".

A hymn by Caryl Micklem

Give to me, Lord, a thankful heart
and a discerning mind:
give, as I play the Christian's part
the strength to finish what I start
and act on what I find.

When, in the rush of days, my will
is habit-bound and slow
help me to keep in vision still
what love and power and peace can fill
a life that trusts in you.

By your divine and urgent claim
and by your human face
kindle our sinking hearts to flame
and as you teach the world your name
let it become your place.

Jesus, with all your Church I long
to see your kingdom come:
show me your way of righting wrong
and turning sorrow into song
until you bring me home.

copyright (c) Caryl Micklem

Sometimes in my working day I feel blessed - it happens more often than I freely admit - and this week I came across a copy of New Church Praise (NCP) given by a group of people visiting Geneva from the West Midlands synod of the United Reformed Church in 1980. That was my home synod and the book was signed by Fred Kaan, our moderator at the time. With this book in my hand I just had to pause, flick through the hymns and then start singing. It was this hymn by Caryl Micklem that set me off. I hadn't sung it for years I suppose yet it felt like an old friend and I realised how much wonderful words like this formed my spirituality and theological reflection as I was training for the ministry. Caryl himself always rather impressed and frightened me with his deep learning and spiritual intelligence. As I surprised myself and my colleagues by singing in my office I was particularly moved by the couplet "show me your way of righting wrong and turning sorrow into song"
It was only when I typed out the words and looked for a link that I discovered that this is the one of Caryl's hymns that was sung at his funeral. If you get a chance to sing it do sing it to his own tune, Gatescarth. The minor key fits it perfectly and lifts the words in exactly the right way.

The crazy world of international banking

There is a chilling article in this week's New Statesman by Iain Macwhirter called the mad world of shadow bankers. Reading this I find it hard to add any further comment. Unregulated market capitalism of this kind is crazy and unethical. Our pension funds and taxes and the poorest in all our societies will now pay the price for such carefully thought out semi-legal corporate thoughtlessness.

The madness of the shadow banking system became apparent over a year ago when Northern Rock was nationalised, but regulators ignored the implications. The Treasury minister Yvette Cooper discovered to her dismay that Northern Rock didn't own half of its own mortgages: £50bn had been hived off to a Jersey-based company, Granite, registered as a charity benefiting Down's syndrome children in the north-east of England. Needless to say, the charity didn't get any cash - this was a special-purpose vehicle that allowed the Rock to trade in complex securities without having to meet the stringent capitalisation requirements of a normal bank.
But it wasn't just the Rock. Most banks and other financial institutions did exactly the same, setting up "orphan companies", often under charitable trusts, that did not appear on their published balance sheets. This is one reason why such apparently well-capitalised and solvent institutions as Royal Bank of Scotland collapsed so suddenly. Their true liabilities had been hidden for years in the shadow system while they made huge profits from lending.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Françoise Dolto remembered in today's Le monde

Today's Le Monde has a three page spread on the splendid Françoise Dolto for the 100th anniversary of her birth. UNESCO will be holding a 3 day international colloquium on Dolto in December but unfortunately the biography which was due to come out this year will now not come out until 2010.
I've particularly enjoyed reading her work on faith and psychoanalysis, though I admit I had hardly heard of her before I moved to France. Today's Le Monde has some wonderful extracts from her letters as well as a much longer article charting her championing of children and of the child within each of us. There's also concern expressed that much of the current controversy around her work is actually a way of trying to mask the return of more authoritarian family models.
Anyway you can find a good article in English charting Dolto's life and work on the UNESCO site here.

A new book on the theology of money

A very timely book on The Theology of Money by Philip Goodchild has been published by SCM Press. You can read the first chapter here and the introduction here.
Goodchild is Professor of Religious Studies at Nottingham University.

This philosophical and theological study of the nature and role of money in the contemporary world comes from one of the UK’s most renowned philosophers. By contrast to the received wisdom of economics that money is a passive object of human invention and control – an instrument of exchange and a measure of value – this work explores the significance of money as a social contract and therefore as a dynamic social force within the global economy. Goodchild examines the theory of money in a comparable manner to Adam Smith, Karl Marx and Georg Simmel. However by contrast to the conclusions of these thinkers, he proposes that money is essentially created in excess of reserves, making it a simultaneous credit and debt. Since money is a debt that must be repaid with interest in the form of money, then the creation of money imposes a social demand for an increase in profit and an increase in the creation of money in order to repay debt. This vicious circle drives the expansion of the global economy. In summary, Goodchild argues that money is a promise, a supreme value, a transcendent value and an obligation or a law. He argues that money has taken the place of God. It is the dominant global religion in practice, even if no one believes in it in principle.

So when will I have time to read all these books I keep learning about??

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Un nouveau blog féministe est né!

Well tonight I have at last had time to get my head around how Worpress works and at last got around to updating the information on the Théologie féministe blog. So now it's a little bit less under construction, there's lots of interesting stuff there from our previous years so the blog is also acting as a way of archiving some of the work the group has done. There's not much out there on feminist theology in French so we're hoping over time to try and link to other francophone sites with similar concerns. But as they say starting a blog is one thing, updating it quite another.

La caravane de la paix nous apporte sa banderolle

This morning I showed a wonderful group of people visiting Geneva from the CEVAA's general assembly around the ecumenical centre - they sang in the chapel better than any other group this year. CEVAA was the first international group of churches and mission societies to come together as a community of churches in mission.
It was very energising to have such an internationally diverse group of people from francophone churches around the world visiting us. At the end of the tour the group unfurled the "banderolle" made by the women's peace caravan - this was been one of CEVAA's projects in recent years.
In case you're wondering this kind of "caravan" is not a metal box with beds in it to be tied behind a car but a travelling group of people moving from village to village, country to country and spending time to speak about peace and participate in local peace-building projects. Each panel on the frieze was made by a different group as the caravan progressed. You can see the map of countries it went through and read more about the project here.
Photos by Juan Michel

Conversation as the way forwards

Having spent much of the weekend in Rome reflecting on the possibilities of dialogue as a tool for change I was interested to see that our friend Simon Barrow is leading a practical seminar exploring conversation as the basis for alternative approaches to the clash of convictions within public and interpersonal life.
So if you're in the London area this Thursday 23 October then go along tot St Ethelburga's Centre for Reconciliation and Peace (78 Bishopsgate, London EC2N 4AG). The seminar is called Conversion, Conversation & Co-existence: Living in a Multi-conviction Society. It runs from 6.30pm - 8.30pm, and entry is free. You are more than welcome. If you can't make it, please pass on the information to those you know in the London area who might be interested. More info here.

Monday, 20 October 2008

So who's afraid of volcanoes?

Thinking about volcanoes - about how without them the earth itself would simply not exist but have exploded and certainly not have been a habitable planet; thinking about the dramaitc explosive power of volcanoes as life-giving and life protecting depsite the enormous death, havoc and destruction they might seem to create; thinking about the void left behind when the lava stops flowing and the smoke stops belching ...
I realise somehow how very unhealthy it could be in organisations to only ever have an extremely low conflict threshold; to become obsessed with damping down dissent and creating false consensus so that we don't see that the earthquake or volcano could also bring positive creative energy for renewal. For churches seeking to tread a path between tradition and renewal this is a real challenge
But then I also wonder whether there is a spirituality really able to deal with the discontinuity the volcano represents. On the one hand it makes me think of the words from Isaiah 43:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.

But on the other I am simply left perplexed and not terribly satisfied. Perhaps to some extent this is about trying to have a Christian theology which has space for vulnerability, pain and incomprehension. And although I can in a sort of wordless and slightly mystical way see what that might be and what it might mean, the rational me also wants to rail against a God who is either not strong enough or not good enough to prevent millions being slaughtered in genocides, holocausts, occupations and ethnic cleansings; against a God too wrapped up in his own beautiful caring vulnerability to be able to actually do something to stop wars or pandemics.
I do not believe God can found in all situations, no matter how terrible. Sometimes surely God is absent - perhaps because we humans have driven God out. Perhaps though, together with the Jews in Auschwitz who put G-d on trial faced with the arbitrary volcano of the shoah and found him guilty, all that remains for me too is to somehow or other say morning and evening prayer ...

And for further reflection, you can see parts of the recently screened BBC play God on Trial on YouTube here, highly recommended - if you search around enough you can find the whole play in 6 minute chunks to watch.

50 words of the day ...

The splendid Translating is an Art has a link to a BBC article giving "50 of your favourite words". Here are the first five in their list (I particularly like "poodle-faker"), and you can the whole list here. Meanwhile perhaps we should all try to draw up our own list of 50 favourite words or perhaps set ourselves the task of reading dictionaries for fun like Ammon Shea.

1. To throw something (someone) out of a window is to defenestrate. I love this word because it immediately brings some interesting memories to the front, not to mention makes me think of some new things to toss out of a window.
Lee Nachtigal, West Hartford, Connecticut, USA

2. Poodle-faker - a young man too much given to taking tea with ladies.
Jane, Pembroke

3. Omphaloskepsis (self-absorbed, navel-gazing). I’m not really a selfish person, but I do occasionally need someone to remind me to look up from my navel. Plus, things that have to do with belly-buttons are generally pretty fun.
Anise Brock, San Francisco, USA

4. Mallemaroking - the carousing of seamen in icebound ships. A wonderfully useful word! How many icebound ships do we all know?
Sue H, Tiverton

5. Spanghew - to cause (esp. a toad or frog) to fly into the air off the end of a stick. (In northern and Scottish use.) Why? Well, all one has to do is imagine the myriad situations in which one might use this word.
Michael Everson, Ireland

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Going home to "examen"

One of the things that I particularly appreciate on the Craighead Institute Course I am taking is how it encourages us to make links and also tries to weave spiritual and theological reflection into the practical and intellectual challenges of managing change.

At our morning reflection today we heard a reading from Anthony Gittins' Called to be Sent

Then we were asked questions for silent reflection:

What words , phrases and ideas ... speak to me as I reflect on recent weeks and months?
Have I been appropriately disturbed or re-oriented, redirected and de-centred?
How am I, how is the organisation I work for, experiencing and participating in the missio dei?

This spirituality of looking back at the day, week or month is an aspect of Ignatian spirituality I particularly appreciate. As I make my way to the railway station and take my night train back to Calvin's city I have much food for thought and for reflection. No time for any more otherwise I shall really miss my train!

A blessing for one who holds power

This blessing which was shared with the group as part of our early morning contemplative space on Saturday comes from John O'Donohue's, Benedictus, a Book of Blessings.

A blessing for one who holds power

May the gift of leadership awaken in you as a vocation,
Keep you mindful of the providence that calls you to serve.

As high over the mountains the eagle spreads its wings,
May your perspective be larger than the view from the foothills.

When the way is flat and dull in times of grey endurance,
May your imagination continue to evoke horizons.

Whe thirst burns in times of drought,
May you be blessed to find the wells.

May you have the wisdom to read time clearly
And to know when the seed of change will flourish.

In your heart may there be sanctuary
for the stillness where clarity is born.

May your work be infused with passion and creativity
And have the wisdom to balance compassion and challenge.

May your soul find the graciousness
To rise above the fester of small mediocrities.

May your power never become a shell
wherein our heart would silently atrophy.

May you welcome your own vulnerability
as the ground where healing and truth join.

May the integrity of soul be your first ideal,
the source that will guide and bless your work.

Copyright (c) John O'Donohue

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Don't forget to stand up against poverty!

Still time to register and be part of standing up against poverty and in favour of the millenium development goals. As part of our course today we stood together against poverty in Rome. For that time I thought particularly of the people of Zimbabwe suffering from no food and a 231,000,000% inflation rate ...

Meditating volcanos as a way to understand the challenges of a leadership of discontinuity

This afternoon we were invited to consider a leadership of discontinuity by first meditating a series of very beautiful photos of volcanoes.
Volcanoes are one of the natural forces that most clearly represent discontinuity, spewing ash and smoke, sending down fire. Fire mountains to be feared, yet also beautiful.
I reflected that these fearful, unpredictable agents of discontinutiy were also essential to the balance of our small planet - without them the earth would explode. Without their amazing bubbling, boiling mass of chemicals, rock and liquid, it's quite likely that life on the planet might never have even started. What does this say about learning even from destructive discontinuity?
In religious terms fire is seen as purifying and energising - think of the Spirit of Pentecost - the magma could represent the surge of change (positive or negative) sweeping all before it in quite a terrifying and uncontrolable way.
On the one hand I was left thinking about Elijah in his cave when the earthquake, wind and fire go by and God was not in any of them but in "the still small voice" or as modern translation call it the sound of "sheer silence". On the other I reflected on what a challenge it is for all people to try to live through the huge discontinuities of war, natural disasters or political upheaval with integrity - for people of faith even more so...
Can one speak of God even in the midst of disaster?

Saturday evening Catholic eucharist

The French refer to it as "La messe anticipée du samedi soir" which I suppose is a way of saying you have been to Sunday service by going to the Saturday evening service that uses the Sunday readings. If you're not Catholic this may seem a bit strange but I suppose it means that you then have your Sunday free to do other things.
For the first time since the course in Rome began a Saturday evening eucharist was organised in the church of the congregation where our meetings take place. It was a simple, straightforward but beautiful service, and I'm pleased I attended even if I did not in the end actually "communicate". Not an easy decision and an emotional one but it seemed like the right one at this time.
I'm not sure my reasoning on this is completely coherent but here are some elements that led me to discreetly remain in my pew this evening.
Worship is a public event, even in a small community, I work for an organisation which works for Christian unity and I didn't want my personal desire to partake in the eucharist to be misinterpreted. Similarly, when you get ordained, in some ways - particularly within church settings - you are not a private individual in the same way a lay person might be. Somehow, fasting from the bread and wine is also a way of fasting for greater and deeper unity, entering into dialogue about the issues - this is not about "individual conscience" for me. (A phrase that the Roman Catholic Church sometimes uses about the issue, i.e. non-Catholic individuals should decide for themselves, although actually the church has already ruled and does not allow its members the same freedom of conscience at Protestant eucharists ... hmmm). I realise this must seem rather inchoate, but as our group had also been talking about dialogue these past two days and insisted on the fact that dialogue is not necessarily harmony, it seemed right for me in this instance to stay true to my convictions.
What was very beautiful about this evening's service was that the patten and chalice were left on the altar and the communicants simply filed up and stood where the priest had stood to take communion. A very powerful symbol and beautiful to be part of, even only as an observer. It also made my decision harder in some ways - it is rare to receive both bread and wine at Catholic mass and the way in which it happened had a certain Protestant simplicity.

Can we do it?

"What we can do is make life a little less terrible and a little less unjust in every generation. A good deal can be achieved in this way."
Karl Popper, Utopia and Violence.

Seems like such a modest aim, yet just this week as I've been proofing documents on food security and reading reports on the humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe I realise more than usual just how far away from it we are. Easier always to go faster in the opposite direction than put in the hard work to achieve even Popper's modest proposal.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Rediscovering humility

On my way to my course I found myself walking along via del Umilità - humility way. This made me smile - humility is not a word others would readily use to describe me I suspect. Walking along what I rather freely translated in my mind as "humble pie path" I also mused that humility is not a modern vitue in a society where we are encouraged to "sell ourselves" and say how good we are.

Then this evening - having taken humility way in the reverse direction (whatever that might be a metaphor for!) I started wondering a bit more and googling of course too and came up with the quote below from a book called The Matrix, by Marilyn Coors, on the ethics of human genetic engineering. Amazing in what direction your matinal musings can take you.

Encompassed in the virtue of practical wisdom is a virtue that is overlooked and particularly unpopular in the modern age. This is humility, the virtue that recognises what is beyond the limits of human wisdom. [Hans] Jonas calls for a revitalisation of the virtue of humility in light of the tremendous power that human genetic technology has the potential to manifest. The virtue that Jonas describes is “a new kind of humility” that correlates with the magnitude of human control over our genome. New humility differs from former interpretations of humility in that it focuses not on the insignificance of human ability but on the extent of our power. Humility in this new role emphasizes “the excess of our power to act over our power to foresee and our power to evaluate and to judge.” The nearly unlimited power to modify our environment and ourselves, coupled with a limited ability to predict the ramifications of our actions, requires the rediscovery of humility.

You can read more of the book here.

Word of the day - functional and dysfunctional dialogue

Today we began our second year on the Craighead Institute's management course by looking at how dialogue works in functional and dysfunctional organisational systems.
I found it particularly helpful, for once, to define something by what it is not, so dialogue is not debate or discussion but rather "sustained collective inquiry" with the purpose of opening new ground - Peter Senge. I also found the physicist David Bohm's revisiting of the etymological roots of dialogue very helpful - dia does not mean two as we might guess but rather through or inter; a way of words. Bohm calls dialogue a stream of meaning, flowing among, through and between us. Daniel Yankelovich says that the purpose of dialogue is to arrive at mutual understanding, but it was also underlined that this does not at all mean that dialogue is about harmony.
Thinking about this on my way back to the flat this evening it struck my that we often use the word dialogue very loosely; sometimes within the church we try to dialogue but don't set up the ground rules properly; we refer to alot of what is actually debate or discussion as dialogue and that can undermine true dialogue.
Anyway thinking today of dialogue as a management tool was actually very helpful and helped me to name many of the strategies that we used while I was on the Eglise Réformée de France's Commission des Ministères. I'm enjoying the psychodynamic approach to thinking about functional and dysfunctional organisations, it's quite energising. I can see that this systemic approach also builds on many of the people skills members of our study group have and encourages us to make the links and see these as key management skills.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

The very real dangers of detective fiction

Waiting for my train last night I very nearly missed my departure - my nose in a book and only pages from the end I didn't notice the train pull in to the station. Fortunately I still made it into my splendid wagon lit and finished my book in bed. Phew! Almost as exciting as the book itself : Tess Geritsen's The Bone Garden, one of several books I picked up from the Cyprus hotel's left behind books library. It's a good railway or airport read.

Meanwhile, in terms of more serious reading, Suzanne MCcarthy has notedthat the Frankfurt book fair has a focus on Turkey this year and invited Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk to open the fair, with a speech critical of the Turkish government. Writing is not just about entertainment but also about telling the truth and that can be much more dangerous than just missing your train.

Travelling by train is so civilised

When this post is published I shall be sitting up in my wagon lit having just opened the blinds to the outside world. I shall be sipping a cup of strong Italian coffee and looking at the wonderful countryside just an hour outside Rome.
As I write this post I have just eaten supper - cooked by Dr B - injected my medecine, found a book or three to read on the train, packed and I still have more than 20 minutes before I have to leave to catch the bus. When I get to railway station in Geneva I'll go and buy a paper wander onto the station, get on my train and snuggle into my bed on board. Today I even got an email from a friend on board a train in Germany - Swiss-Italian trains aren't quite up to that yet.
I have promised myself that next time I go to Cyprus it will be by train and boat, either via Sicily or via Istanbul. Since Sunday I began counting again how many months I can manage without travelling by air, we'll see. But in mainland Europe the train wins the civilised tag every time.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

All desires known - an evening of feminist theology celebrating Janet Morley

Last night at our feminst theology group I led an extra session on the theme of the year which is untranslateable into English "Dieu est belle". The title I gave to my talk was:
Intégrer la foi et le féminisme à travers le langage de la prière publique: Plaidoyer pour le langage inclusif
Integrating faith and feminism through the language of public prayer : a call for inclusive language.
I used the talk as an excuse to pay hommage to the influence of Janet Morley's for me key feminist theology text All Desires Known. Calling it a key theology text is perhaps a bit strange, yet for me it certainly had that effect. The book is 20 years old this year, first published in more or less pamphlet format in 1988 by the Movement for the Ordination of Women.
All Desires Known is, at its heart, a book of carefully crafted and beautifully written short "collects" - prayers following the Sunday lectionary readings and themes, with some additional psalms and also very powerful eucharistic prayers in the second half. The author sought to use words, images and metaphors in a new way and it was in many ways her three page introduction that for me managed to name a deep felt sense of what I believed about worship, prayer and language, yet at that time I had not found words to express.
"In worship our ideologies stand exposed, and nowhere is this clearer than in the assumptions expressed in our language ... the effort to erase gender from our image of God, or to make everything fair and balanced, can produce linguistic awkwardness, and tend towards a neutrality in prayer which I think is inappropriate. Much more potentially creative is the writing of new texts in vigorous language ..."
I began the evening by reading my rather last minute French translation of a Psalm by Morley which fits in well with our theme for the year. What follows is just a short extract (in English)

I will praise God my Beloved
for she is althogether lovely.
Her presence satisfies my soul;
she fills my senses to overflowing
so that I cannot speak

I don't have time to write a great deal more now as I really must catch a train to Rome! However I must add that we eneded our evening by writing prayers and poems ourselves and we'll begin to post them on our new blog soon - once I get around to learning how to use it!
But here's a further taste of Morley's prayers:

O thou sudden God
generoous in mercy
quickener of new life
giver of new love
irreverent, subversive,
deep source of yearning
startling comforter
bearer of darkness
unmaker of old paths
bringer of strange joy
abundant, disturbing,
healing unlooked for
tender and piercing:
late have I loved thee
O beauty so ancient and so new.

Copyright (c)Janet Morley, 1988

Facebook does ecumenism

A new facebook group called One Body of Christ has been started with the idea of getting all Christians of whatever background to join as a way of overcoming divisions. It's an interesting non-institutional approach to ecumenism.

This group is an experiment to try to see if we can get all Christians on Facebook into a group together. There are often so many divisions among Christians, so we are forming this group to help bring together the Global Body of Christ.

Join this group as a step toward ending those divisions. While this group will start out as an experiment, we hope that if we can get enough people on the group then we can then take some real steps to bring together the Global Body of Christ.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Trust as the essential ingredient in management

On Wednesday evening I shall take the train to Rome to begin the second year of my course on management with the Craighead Institute. I'm trying to get around to sorting out the title for the long essay I have to write for the Diploma next year and have been trying to read around the topic a bit. Over the past week I came across this article on Trust, Confidence and Organizational Brain Disorder by Theo Compernolle.
The thing that is beginning to interest me more and more as I go into the study of management is that is is really like psychotherapy but for organizations. French talks about associations and organizations as "une personne morale" - this really simply means a legal entitiy - as opposed to a "une personne physique" which is an individual (Don't translate these as moral person and physical person - you're likely to get even more lost in legal jargon!). Although the concept of une personne morale was a bit difficult for me to get my head around as I begin to understand organizations as living, breathing and irrational entities it begins to make a bit more sense.
Anyway, here are a couple of quotes from Compernolle's article:

Trust feeds on virtue, so be virtuous. Your words and actions should reflect your values. Keep your commitments and promises. Admit your mistakes quickly, without any “buts,” and right wrongs fast. Be forgiving.

Interestingly this is almost religious language and this next quote could almost come from the book of Proverbs:

Effective communication builds bridges. Communicate by listening 80% of the time, but don’t forget the other 20% – dedicated to active communication, using clear and simple terms and metaphors. Make time for live contact. As an active communicator never criticize in public and do not engage in negative gossip. Instead, spread lots of positive gossip and be good at giving and receiving positive and negative feedback.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Letter to Mark Brewer from the Facebook we support Dave Walker group

As the number of people on the support Dave Walker group on facebook reaches 500 David Keen has taken the initiative to write to Mark Brewer requesting that he withdraw his cease and desist notice.
If you want to know more about the case you can read various posts listed by Matt Wardman here and background here.
You can also visit Dave Walker's great cartoon blog here and the Church Times blog here.

Dear Mr. Brewer
We are writing on behalf of 498 supporters of cartoonist and blogger Dave Walker, a group which includes bishops, national journalists in the UK and US, lawyers, clergy, and concerned members of the public.We would like to ask you please to contact Dave Walker and withdraw the demands made in the 'Cease and Desist' letter which you sent him in July. Your letter, as far as we know, instructed Dave to remove all his posts about the recent history of SPCK bookshops or face action for libel. With the pressures of the impending Lambeth conference, and a very short deadline given by yourself, Dave complied. He commented at the time: “I have therefore removed all of the SPCK/SSG posts on this blog, as, although I believe I have not done anything wrong I do not have the money to face a legal battle. The removal of these posts is in no way an admission of guilt.”Many of us have read the posts concerned, and are surprised, to say the least, that they could be called libelous. Indeed, the first three posts make no mention at all of yourself, the Society of St. Stephen the Great, or anyone associated with you. The 4th post reports your takeover of the bookshops with the comment “this is splendid news.” Another post is a simple link to your SSG video on YouTube. Other items include verbatim reports of your own statements, and in the simple post on the death of Steve Jeynes, dozens of people used the comments to expressed their grief and condolences to Steve’s family.Dave is a reasonable man, and if all critics were as fair as he is the world would be a better place. If you were able to reconsider, and point out specific statements and claims you were unhappy with, we are sure Dave would be happy to correct them where appropriate. This is the normal process of debate on the internet, and in real life, and follows the strong tradition of free speech for which our countries stand and are rightly proud.So this is a polite request from all of us: please contact Dave Walker, advise him that your ‘cease and desist’ communication no longer stands, and let him report freely.

Yours sincerely

Rev. David Keen, Rt. Rev. Alan Wilson (Bishop of Buckingham), Rev. Colin Alsbury, Rev. Mark Bennett, John Cooper, Annette Gaykema, Steve Thackray and Matt Wills on behalf of the ‘We Support Dave Walker’ group

ASBO Jesus' greed creed

Jon Birch over at the Further adventures of ASBO Jesus has posted this greed creed and encourages us to improve on the wording or write our own cgreed creed. I particularly like "I believe in the holy catholic bank". Perhaps the greed creed is the only truly ecumenical one ... how sad.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Payback by Margaret Atwood

There's a new book called Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth by Margaret Atwood and it sounds very topical and also right up my street. It's an essay and not fiction. You can listen to a review of it on Radio 4 here.
It hink I'm going to have to buy this very soon. Here's an extract from a review:
"Payback" is an intelligent, wide-ranging book that examines the
metaphor of debt and the role it takes in our lives. "Debt" is like
air - something we take for granted and never think about until things go wrong. This is not a book about debt management or high finance, but about debt as a very old, central motif in religion and literature and also in the structuring of human societies. She looks at the language of debt in the "Old Testament" - what was 'owed' to God, and why. She then turns to investigate debt as sin in medieval and Elizabethan literature, before it develops into a plot-driving concept in nineteenth and twentieth century novels. The debts to society and to nature are discussed in the final essay in this book as Atwood explores how debt as a metaphor affects our understanding of the environment and death. Topical, enlightening and probing, this is the work of one of the most gifted writers of our generation.

Rejoice despite the gloom!

My colleague Theodore Gill has prepared prayers on Monday with prayers calling us to rejoice rather than dwell in gloom. The theme of "rejoice in the Lord always" from Philipians 4.4 and I'm looking forwards to Theo's meditation on Monday morning . The idea that even in the terirble financial crisis gripping the world there is much to rejoice about. You can find the order of service in the docs section. In the meantime here is part of the prayer of intercession - I particularly liked the idea of lifting "our lives out of their accustomed ruts and our minds out of their comfortable rants"

Eternal God, you call us to rejoice. Forgive our tendency towards gloom.
Remind us that your good news is glorious, and lead us into your courts with joy.

La ténèbre n’est point ténèbre devant toi; la nuit comme le jour est lumière.

Lift our lives out of their accustomed ruts, our minds out of their comfortable rants.
Lift our hearts into your presence through the revelation of your gracious will for us.

La ténèbre n’est point ténèbre devant toi; la nuit comme le jour est lumière.

Teach us how to love you, and to worship you in joyousness of spirit.
Teach us joyfully to love one another, to bring your light into one another’s existence.

La ténèbre n’est point ténèbre devant toi; la nuit comme le jour est lumière.

Wherever practical difficulties lie as snares in our neighbours’ paths,
wherever the forces of markets obscure hope for people’s futures,
wherever war or natural catastrophe amplify the temptation to despair,
shed your light upon our world, and grant that we may reflect your goodness.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Sow life, and kill death with life

“Because you can’t kill death with death
Sow life
And kill death with life.”

Dennis Smith, a 56-year-old lay mission worker in Guatemala for the Presbyterian Church (USA), quoted these words of Guatemalan poet Julia Esquivel in his acceptance speech after being elected president of the World Association for Christian Communication during its congress in Cape Town.

In his speech, he recalled how he had once been a translator for a Mayan pastor and a delegation of theological seminaries from North and Central America visiting Guatemala after the 1996 peace accords that ended a 36-year civil war.

I noted to myself that the pastor did not trot out his credentials of suffering. I knew he had lost close relatives. I knew he had witnessed monstrous acts.

The pastor and I talked later. I asked him why he had chosen not to tell his own story. Such memories, he told me, should not be violated. To do so can trivialize the victims, can cheapen their ongoing presence as they accompany us on life’s journey. We talked about living in a time of great violence.

We agreed that in these circumstances, there are no good guys. Within each of us exists the capacity to do monstrous acts. That is who we are as human beings. To celebrate violence only lessens us, no matter what the justification. But victimhood also lessens us. To perpetrate violence breaks something inside us. Always. There are no exceptions.

So here we are, lessened: victims, witnesses, perpetrators. After so much brutality, our very humanity hangs by a thread. God’s restoring grace is our only hope.
So how do we deal with continued violence and injustice? Do we just step aside and let it roll unchecked? No. The struggle to build the world imagined by God must continue.

But we must know that the struggle will consume us. In our brokenness we will become even more broken. Holy Spirit, spirit of wholeness – we are broken. We are capable of breaking others.

And quoting Esquivel's words above, he concluded:

This is the story we share: the breath of the Spirit is in our midst; her presence will not be denied. Her's is the story of the slow, sure, tender triumph of life and justice and hope in all of Creation.

WACC was formally established in 1968, and now has members in 120 countries. It says its key concerns are, "media diversity, equal and affordable access to communication and knowledge, media and gender justice, and the relationship between communication and power".

The full text is at stranzdocs

Post Christendom marked by seven transitions

I came across these seven transitions on the Prodigal Kiwis site where Paul Fromont writes.

He used them to point to the new monasticism and also said

This is a context in which as Christians we will need to dig deep and find resources to be followers of Jesus in a culture that offers little support and plenty of disincentives.

The transitions also interested me from the perspective of ecumenism - what does post-Christendom mean for ecumenism, which has over the decades become less of a movement and more about institutions? And is "post-Christendom" even applicable to those places where the churches are experiencing enormous growth - Africa and Asia? Lots of questions, sometime I must make the time to do further reading about all of this. For now here are the seven transitions.

The emerging culture of post-Christendom is characterised by seven transitions:

From the centre to margins: in Christendom the Christian story and the churches were central, but in post-Christendom these are marginal.

From majority to minority: in Christendom Christians comprised the (often overwhelming) majority, but in post-Christendom we are a minority.

From settlers to sojourners: in Christendom Christians felt at home in a culture shaped by their story, but in post-Christendom we are aliens, exiles and pilgrims in a culture where we no longer feel at home.

From privilege to plurality: in Christendom Christians enjoyed many privileges, but in post-Christendom we are one community among many in a plural society.

From control to witness: in Christendom churches could exert control over society, but in post-Christendom we exercise influence only through witnessing to our story and its implications.

From maintenance to mission: in Christendom the emphasis was on maintaining a supposedly Christian status quo, but in post-Christendom it is on mission within a contested environment.

From institution to movement: in Christendom churches operated mainly in institutional mode, but in post-Christendom we must become again a Christian movement.

CCME and CEC merge

So the official business of the CEC central committee ended today with the confirmation that the general assembly of the Churches' Commission on Migrants in Europe has agreed to merge with CEC and become its third commission, alongside the Church and Society Commission and the Churches in Dialogue Commission.
At the end of the meetings members and moderators of CEC and CCME came together for prayers, listening to the passage from Matthew 25
“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Friday, 10 October 2008

New Zimbabwe campaigning blog

Marlon Zakeyo of the World Student Christian Federation has just launched a new blog for the WSCF's human rights and international advocacy work on Zimbabwe. The blog seeks to be
"an information sharing platform that seeks to provide insightful information, updates and related advocacy initiatives concerning the human rights and humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe to interested international organisations, activists, advocacy networks, governments and the general public."
The WSCF and World YWCA and Marlon in particular, have been providing a vital information, advocacy and campaigning role on Zimbabwe among the internataional institutions in Geneva. The Wednesday meetings on Zimbabwe have been an invaluable forum for sharing up to date news.
Today's post is on the critical food crisis in Zimababwe. Read more about how you can help here.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

The power of logos

This week marks the centenary of the London Underground logo. The familiar red and blue roundel was designed simply to make station names more visible, but over time it has become a symbol of the city. Amazingly, the original designer started off by basing it on the logo of the YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association). The original version of the logo, a solid red disk with a blue bar, also bears more than a passing resemblance to the Martini logo. There are also London Underground logos in other places , such as Wittebergplatz in Berlin. The Guardian newspaper has a photo gallery about the London Underground logo.

Robben Island

On Wednesday, Dr B took part in a visit to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela and other (non-white, male) political prisoners were held during South Africa's apartheid era. The attempt to divide race from race went down to the rations that were served to the prisoners - the coloured and Indian prisoners being given more than the black prisoners. "This diet was designed to divide political prisoners along racial lines, but the Indian and coloured prisoners decided to share what they had with the African political prisoners. Our comrades inside this prison refused to be divided on the basis of this diet," said the guide, himself a former political prisoner on Robben Island. He finished the visit to the prison by quoting Ahmed Kathrada (imprisoned for 28 years): "While we will not forget the brutality of apartheid, we will not want Robben Island to be a monument of our hardship and suffering. We would want it to be a triumph of the human spirit against the forces of eveil. A triumph of wisdom and largeness of spirit against small minds and pettiness. A triumph of courage and determination over human frailty and weakness."

We still need to speak the truth to power says Tutu

While I'm in Cyprus Dr B is in South Africa at the World Association for Christian Communication's world congress on "Communication is peace".

You can read an ENI article about Desmond Tutu saying how much there is an ongoing need to speak the truth to power in today's South Africa.
This phrase in the article spoke to me deeply of the spirituality of resistance

Addressing the WACC meeting, Tutu said, "It is one of the most excruciating things to have to stand up against those with whom you were once in agreement about many things."

You can read the whole article here. It includes interesting comments by Helen Zille, the mayor of Cape Town including this:

Helen Zille, who also leads South Africa's official opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, say that the Church and the media play an essential role in checking the misuse of power.
"The price of freedom is constant vigilance in all times and in all places," said Zille, a former political correspondent for South Africa's defunct Rand Daily Mail newspaper, who helped expose the torturing to death of the anti-apartheid Black activist Steve Biko in police custody.
Now, in the post-colonial and post-apartheid era, Africa needs "to move from liberation politics to constitutional politics", said the Cape Town mayor, who attends the Rondebosch United Church in the city, where she is a choir member.
"The liberation struggle was about seizing power," said Zille. "Constitutional democracy is about limiting power, and the checks and balances this entails." The Church and a free press, as well as independent courts, are "essential" to this task, she noted.

Called to one hope ...

This morning's session of the CEC central committee in Cyprus spent time discussing preparations for the 13th CEC assembly in Lyon, France next July.
Preparations are well under way, though it's going to be hard work for staff in the three CEC offices in Brussels, Strasbourg and Geneva. Smaranda Dochia the assembly secretary who is enthusiastic, hard-working and very well-organised, guided members of central committee through the plans for the assembly. The planning committee is hoping that this assembly will be more participative than previous ones and really look to the future of ecumenism in Europe.
Anyway you can find the special assembly issue of the CEC Monitor here - including an short meditation in French by me.

Religion in the public sphere

If you click here you can read the report of the Church and Society Commission of the Conference of European Churches - it's called Religion in the Public Sphere.
CEC's Church and Society Commission represents the concerns of the churches to the European institutions in both Brussels and Strasbourg, there are interesting articles on Ageing and euthanasia, religion in the public sphere and intercultural dialogue in the 2007 edition.
Today the CEC central committee received an update on the Commission's work.
In the current financial crisis you the reflections here from the Commission on socially ethical investment and the churches are interesting. Given the current crisis the need for thinking ethically about how churches invest is a key issue if we want to try and change the culture of subprime investment.
I was also given pause for thought during the report at the ever decreasing level of voter participation in European elections, mentioned in this context as a challenge to the churches. How do we get people to be more involved in and enthused by politics and civil society at all levels? What needs to happen for people to connect to a sense of responsibility for institutions, and how do the institutions need to change to make that possible?

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Where were you ...?

Where were you?
Where were you when I sold myself into slavery to follow a dream of a better life?
Where were you every night when my father beat me?
Where were you when I paid a year's wages for an illegal ticket as a stowaway?
Where were you when the foreman locked me in at night and the house burned down?
Where were you when my first eight clients raped me of my virginity?
Where were you when my sister escaped and fell off the seventh floor balcony?
Where were you when my 16 hour day in the fields ended with being bedded down in a barn?
Where were you when my wages never came?
Where were you when I needed a doctor?
Where were you when the pimps hunted me down?
Where were you when I returned home and my family threw me out?
Where were you when the gang master said "it's quite safe" and the tide came in and drowned so many?
Where were you when I couldn't bear it any longer?

This morning at a joint session of the assembly of the Churches' Commission on Migrants in Europe (CCME) and the central committee of the Conference of European Churches (CEC), we heard about the churches' work to combat human trafficking from various contexts across Europe.
The presentations were powerful, erudite and heartfelt and I learnt alot. However, as I listened it struck me that inherent sexism in our societies does both men and women a huge disservice when it comes to campaigning against trafficking. Women become the sexualised "victims" of this trade. Much of CCME's work is in trying to move the focus away from victimhood to victims' rights but I realised how difficult this is when it is somehow more attractive, dare one say "sexier", to talk about the suffering of women trafficked into the sex industry than to look at some of the other victims of trafficking - namely men many of whom are working in conditions of near and actual slavery in their attempts to seek out a better life.
Women and children still represent the majority of those trafficked but all of our societies need to be aware of struggling against the economic, patriarchal and unjust structures which can often make people more vulnerable to trafficking. It's important that we focus not only on the plight of women who are trafficked but also on the terrible situation of forced labour which many trafficked men find themselves in.
God created us male and female to be in God's image.

Where we you when I was sold into bondage?
Where were you when I travelled by night in a crate?
Where were you when I was worked to the bone, worked to the limit of my psychological and physical limits?

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Not Fortress Europe but Europe as an open space says CEC president

The President of the Conference of European Churches (CEC) spoke out tonight "Not for Europe as a fortress but for Europe as an open space". Pastor Jean-Arnold de Clermont made his remarks in response to Androulla Kaminara, head of the EU's representation in Cyprus, at a reception during CEC's central committee meeting which is being held at the same time as the Churches' Commission on Migrants in Europe (CCME) is holding its meeting.
Ms. Androulla spoke of the EU's determination to combat traficking and also of the need for develoment work to go hand in hand with immigration policy.

Until coming to Cyprus I had not realised quite how close to Lebanon it was. Reading my guide book about this divided island, of which only one part is in the EU, I also learnt that there are a alot of trafficked women in both parts ot the island. The large numbers of tourists mean that there is a high demand for the services of the sex industry. Meanwhile, many of the workers in the hotels we are staying in are internal EU migrants from Eastern Europe.
All this makes Cyprus a fascinating place to discuss both trafficking, which the meeting will begin to do tomorrow, and also issues of peace and reconciliation. Despite the karaoke machines and high-rise tourist entertainment, the border with the North is only a few kilometres away, a constant and very real reminder of the need for bridge-building, overcoming the past and imagining a new and better future for this beautiful island which is still separated.