Saturday, 31 January 2009

Adding John Updike to the reading list

Ben Myers has written a good appreciation of John Updike and his work over on Faith and Theology. Myers highlights the theological themes in Updike's work, his appreciation of Barth and how his poetry shows great theological acuity. As usual the comments after the post also make for great reading.
I remember reading Roger's Version in Berlin while waiting for my visa to get into East Germany (to go and study at a church seminary there) and discussing it with a friend also training for the ministry who was reading the German translation.
Meanwhile Kim Fabricius cites this description of what seminaries are like in the comments:
"believing souls are trucked in like muddy, fragrant cabbages from the rural hinterland and in three years of fine distinctions and exegetical quibbling we have chopped them into cole slaw salable at any suburban supermarket. We take in saints and send out ministers, workers in the vineyard of inevitable anxiety and discontent. The death of Christianity has been long foreseen but there will always be churches to serve as storehouses for the perennial harvest of human unhappiness."
Anyway reading about Updike over recent days has convinced me that I must try to make more time for serious reading - and not just for detective fiction.

Ubuntu may be a great operating system but hardware still matters

While he was away at the World Social Forum Dr B sent me some particularly cryptic emails - so cryptic that they looked encrypted. It reminded me of the days where I would sit for hours trying to decipher his handwritten letters to me from the other side of the iron curtain. Anyway now he's home I understand why his emails from Belem were in code.
Oxfam Belgium donated a large number of recycled computers installed with the Ubuntu Linux operating system to the Forum and for work in Brazil afterwards. Quite a number of them were in the press room at the WSF. It's a great idea. However there was one problem and it was Azerty not Ubuntu. Training your brain to make your fingers intuitively find their way around the French azerty keyboard has been something I haven' t managed in nearly 18 years of living in France - the numbers are all on shift for instance (and obviously Dr B has fared no better). Of course the recycled computers from Belgium came with azerty keyboards. It just proves that you can have the hippest operating system you want but you still need to think about the hardware issues.

Friday, 30 January 2009

Surviving on 600 calories a day in Zimbabwe

The Guardian is reporting that the World Food Programme is halving the amount of food it gives to people in Zimbabwe to 600 calories a day.

The WFP says it has cut the ration to meet increased demand and cope with a shortfall in donations. It says it requires another $65m to keep feeding Zimbabweans until the end of March. But donors are reluctant to put more resources into the beleaguered African state and what aid there is has been partly diverted to the cholera crisis that has claimed 3,000 lives.

Bad governance is fatal for the people's health. Meanwhile 600 calories represent a couple of modest snacks to the stuffed rather than starved person I am.

Will diplomacy be able to triumph in Zimbabwe? How many hundreds and thousands will die in the meantime?l

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Breaking news - I'm gender neutral!

Silhouette of a womanWe guess is written by a woman (50%), however it's quite gender neutral.

Is this correct?
View results

Well thanks to the irrepressible David Ker I now know that the Stranzblog is apparently gender neutral - according to the remit of this scientific test. Not sure what this makes me but I do wonder about the word "quite" - is 0% "very" gender neutral if 50% is "quite"? Yes you've guessed, I never did study statistics - je n'y comprends rien.
Anyway this stuff at least gives we bloggers something to write about in our aimless way. Let me know what your blog comes out as. The women in ministries blog comes out at 61% female according to the test - only 1% more than the wonderful Kurk Gayle.
What's actually interesting of course is that some men are a little offended to be thought of as women by this data driven device. Whereas of course being gender neutral is an accolade for a woman perhaps!

New blogs on the block

My colleague Hans Uli Gerber has started a new blog which made me smile with pleasure when I first saw it today. It's called upside down heaven and says:
This is about the beauty of messiness, the joy of complications, and the peace of non-conclusiveness. When things are upside-down there is hope for them to get better. This is also about how heaven and life are part of each other and about how heaven is so close, yet can't be possessed.

Those who know me know that I am a messy person so I like the idea of the beauty of messiness. I also wonder whether maybe the beauty of messiness could be linked to "messy church" which is a movement promoting informal more messy forms of church.
Hans Uli coordinates the WCC's Decade to Overcome Violence and his first post on the new blog is all about growing up speaking German in a French speaking part of Switzerland, about language and identity.

There's a link from ideas of messiness to Sarah Hall's new blog "Pieced Together Praise" which she started after the women in ministries meeting in Windermere. Sarah also has a link to Switzerland where she studied theology for a while - despite being British she also speaks fluent German and French. It's because of Sarah's blog that I've discovered the word "craftivism" - although I realise that this has been my approach to ministry and life for quite a while. Anyway craftivism seems to link in to all sorts of wierd and wonderful wacky types out there - including groups of radical knitters. I think I'm going to enjoy learning more about this.
In her most recent post Sarah has written about Jean Parker's exhbition Good Grief which was on in Sheffield recently. That's art rather than messiness but if any emotion is messy then grief is.
Anyway I think it's time not just for messy church but for messy theology. Any takers?

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Bookmark it

At the women in ministries meeting I was given a beautiful handmade book from Tree of Life Inspirations.
The one I have is not about the kangaroo leap of faith that this one encourages, the back to this one reads:

To step beyond our own limitations,
no matter how small those steps may be,
is to start on a road of exciting self discovery.
We are all much more than we usually believe ourselves to be.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Justice or mercy?

In idle moments in the Stranz-Brown household we pose the question "Justice or mercy - which would you rather have?"
Tonight I've been reflecting on this difficult question - which of these two virtues is more important in ethical decision-making, or even just in ordinary decision-making? It depends on many things, including the situation. Our household is united in choosing justice rather than mercy if that is the choice. This blog has a justice tag but not a mercy tag, yet justice can be merciful.
I'm not sure what it is we think this says about us but justice rather than mercy is it. Just a way of trying to follow some kind of path through the morass of life and faith.
"Do Justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God" Micah 6.8

I've just realised that at our wedding we sang these wonderful words by Isaac Watts, suggesting that maybe this is a false dichotomy:

Thy truth and justice I'll proclaim;
thy bounty flows an endless stream
thy mercy swift, thine anger slow
but dreadful to the stubborn foe.

(Tune St Bartholomew, please don't sing it to Rockingham - the links here are particularly cheesy and schmaltzy versions!)

So which is it for you, justice or mercy?

Monday, 26 January 2009

Searching for the meaning of life ...

Concert for Gaza

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Midwifery as a metaphor for management

For some months I've been reflecting on the midwifery role in terms of management and leadership. It seems to me that the midwifery role is a good analogy for the leadership role. In many cases there is a lot of solid relational work that goes on before the birth, also some coaching perhaps and then as birth approaches both encouragement, reassurance and the ability to be present and know when it is crucial to intervene and when not, when to use technology and when to let nature take its course.
Of course saying that I have been reflecting on this really just means that it has occurred to me in a few idle moments on the bus and that I seem to come back to it as an interesting and useful metaphor.
Perhaps it's also the feminist theologian in me that is interested in this metaphor. I have always liked the image of God as midwife. In management terms though, it is not about power in the traditional sense but is more about a manager encouraging a new thing to be born that is different both from the person or group giving birth to it and from the manager themself.
As I started my management course I wrote that I was convinced that management was theological work. I still wonder exactly what it is I meant when I put that down. I think that what I am groping towards at the moment as I prepare to write my diploma this year is that management is actually about bringing theological skills, knowledge and models to bear on actual situations and organisations. The thing I think I have most learnt on this particular management course is that it is as much psychology and community building as blatant power that are the building blocks of pushing change through in organisations. What I am learning about drawing different things together is that insights from pastoral and systematic theology may be important alongside insights from systemic management theory and analysis.
Whether we choose to effect change in a way that presents people with a fait accompli, in a way that respects or disregards due process, in a way that is up front or secret, in a way that is top down or bottom up, in a way that waits or pushes, may well also show up theological issues we or our organisations are facing or trying to deal with.
I am not yet quite clear what it says about me - a woman who has no children - or about my management style, theological issues or systemic organisational analysis - to say that I am interested in the issue of midwifery as a metaphor for management. It expresses to me something about some outcomes being so precious that they require and should be offered some extra support, encouragement and coaching. And it also makes me reflect on how difficult the modern workplace is for so many people - and how very western my model of midwifery is. Throughout the world women are giving birth to babies without much hope of this kind of support before, during or after the birth. Many of their indigenous widwives have been lured to other countries where money is easier to come by.

One of the things that regularly happens to me when I think I am having an original thought is that by googling I discover my thoughts are nowhere near as original as I thought. So it is with this. There's an interesting link here on Facilitation as Midwifery, another here on midwifery and philosophy and a very interesting article by Sharon Bell on midwifery and film making here. She can see pluses and minuses in the image of the midwife as a model for creative leadership in the knowledge economy. She also claims that the midwife may be at least as useful as the more male football coach image often used in management and says "the midwife epitomises the concept of leader as engaged facilitator."
Ah well even if my thoughts on this were not as original as I had perhaps hoped at least there's going to be lots for me to read and think about on this subject.


Friends have been good to me this week: phoning, visiting, listening, doing my shopping, leaving messages, and today taking me out into the sunshine, beautiful views, snow and blue skies. A great way to build up my strength and morale after the week's fever and infection. It always surprises me when this happens. When I was a teenager I didn't have many friends and ever since I left school I'm surprised that I seem to have friends.
Perhaps these feelings also come from a sense of guilt at not being a very good or dedicated friend myself. I'm no longer very good at keeping in touch with friends from long ago - it's years since I sent a Christmas card to anyone.
Friendship is one of the key building blocks of life, both casual and good friends, networks of aquaintances and even "virtual" phone, internet and facebook friends help all of us to remain connected and not to get lost within our own petty concerns and worlds. In the international and local community here on the Franco-Swiss border friendships are sometimes difficult as so many people are always moving through and moving on. It's difficult for some folk to find the emotional energy to invest in new friendships they think might not last long. Living with the ebb and flow of changing and developing relationships is always a challenge.
Years ago a young woman in my congregation asked to be baptised. I encouraged her to find a Bible passage and, after sitting down with my copy of the Concordance de la Traduction Oecuménique de la Bible, she came up with a number of verses on friendship which all came from the book of Ecclesiasticus. This was quite a challenge both for me and for her Grandfather who was also a pastor - Protestants don't usually read Ecclesisticus as it is one of the Deutero-canonical books and is not normally included in Protestant Bibles. Looking through Ecclesiasticus again today I particularly liked this verse: A faithful friend is the medicine of life."
(Ecclesiasticus 6:16).
With all the medicine I've been taking this week I'm also very gratefully aware that my friends have been at least as good as the antibiotics. Friendship is even today the medicine of life.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Air, water, earth and fire

These photos come from the Stranzblog's correspondent in Brazil. Dr B is currently attending the World Forum on Theology and Liberation and these were taken at the opening meeting where dancers brought forward symbolic representations of the elements of air, fire, water and earth, and greetings being expressed to delegates by representatives of the region's indigenous and Afro-Brazilian religions. These four paintings representing the elements are at the front of the meeting hall.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Which wolf do you feed? The first sermon preached for President Obama

There is a story attributed to Cherokee wisdom:
One evening a grandfather was teaching his young grandson about the internal battle that each person faces.
"There are two wolves struggling inside each of us" the old man said.
"One wolf is vengefulness, anger, resentment, selfpity, fear ...
"The other wolf is compassion, faithfulness, hope, truth, love ..."
The grandson sat thinking,then asked: "Which wolf wins grandfather?
His grandfather replied "The one you feed."

I read this today in Rev Sharon Watkins sermon for the first prayer service attended by President Obama following his taking the oath of office.
I began to wonder about which wolf I am feeding. We set standards so high for our politicians and leaders, and while we expect so much of those in high office we so easily excuse ourselves our ethical lapses.

It's been an emotional week watching Obama come to power. I appreciate the thoughtfull seriousness. None of the grating false humility and false (in)sincerity of Tony Blair in 1997 - the man who took his country to war because he "believed" it was right. Hmm.
Let's hope this US president will not feel he has to choose to feed the wolf of war.

Read the rest of Sharon Watkins sermon here.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Word of the day: Je suis

I realised today that there are various possibilites for translating from French into English the phrase "Je suis qui je suis". It could be "I am who I am" but it could also be I am who I follow or I follow who I am or even I suppose I follow who I follow. One of the curiosities of the conjugation of the verbs être and suivre.

So when will there be good news - Friday nights?

Cold wet winter days in bed when you're suffering from 'flu need to be spent with a good book or two under the duvet. As I try to get my temperature down one that I've been enjoying this week is When will there be Good News by Kate Atkinson. It combines the pleasures of a crime novel with literary fiction and is a satisfying read. I've also enjoyed Joanna Trollope's Friday Nights. It's good to have a book about female friendships and rivalries that reflects on work, relationships and family in this sort of narrative way. It's given me some ideas about my management course and the passion some of put into work being very similar to the passion we put into other areas of life.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

From desperate preacher to Disclosing new worlds

When I was in pastoral ministry I would regularly lurk and occasionally comment on websites with discussion forums on the lectionary readings for that week. I particularly liked Frank Schaefer's Desperate Preacher site - those were the days when the whole site was free, but even today the weekly lectionary discussion forums can be joined without any fee and they are a good place for solitary pastors and preachers to go to feel more connected, less lonely and less desperate too! I keep meaning to try and set up something like this in French but I supose I won't get around to it, though Frank Schaefer is originally German and set up the site in English. Over the years I have really appreciated Chris Haslam's excellent week by week introduction to the lectionary texts, especially as that site also used to have material in French and still has material in Portuguese. I particularly like the "clippings" sections, bits of interesting commentary information that have been clipped from the main commentary.
Now I'm not so much in the weekly disicpline of sermon writing I don't visit these sites quite so often but I still enjoy Theolog a blog of the Christian Century and reading sermons written by others, Margot Kässmann's make for good reading - though most of them are in German.
Lawrence Moore who is director of the United Reformed Church's Windermere Centre hosts an interesting site called Disclosing New Worlds which is building into a good resource for preachers. The site follows the revised common lectionary through the church year and has good photos and art work. It also has other essays including one by Matthew Paris on Africa needs God and another by Lance Stone on The Preaching Task - Picking a Fight with the Text. Go and have a look around.
Meanwhile I've been enjoying Prayer for a serene Realist by Iwan Russell Jones on Ship of Fools about Barrack Obama and Reinhard Niebuhr. It's an essay not a sermon but in this historic week it's all grist to the preaching mill. Here's the opening paragraph:

As Barack Obama enters the White House, it is already clear that few more thoughtful and intellectual men have been elected President. In this essay to celebrate the inauguration, Iwan Russell Jones traces the connections between Obama and the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, and asks whether we are about to see a fresh chapter in the troubled relationship between politics and religion in America.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Word of the day Qual der Wahl from my Brazilian correspondent

So Dr B has gone thousands of kilometres from Ferney Voltaire to the northern reaches of Brazil at the mouth of the Amazon to find he is staying in a hotel run by a Frenchman married to a Brazilian. So far he hasn´t been very ambitious when it comes to eating and just walked 50 metres down the road to the local restaurant which turned out also to display a French flag and be run by a man with an enormous handlebar moustache who used to live in Chamonix! Worse still, he was confronted with the choice on the menu of filet de boeuf or coquelet au four. It´s what the Germans call the qual der wahl ... In the end he decided to go with the Brazilian national dish (beef) which was just delicious (he says).
I suppose qual der wahl is how having to choose makes you suffer - choisir c'est souffrir - the agony of choice - something Dr B normally only goes through when he's trying to decide between deserts not main courses. It's a phrase that comes to my mind when I look at the yoghurt counter in the supermarket - just how many yoghurts does it take to make human beings happy?

Martha and Mary in Bethany

I'm reposting most of this from the women in ministries blog where I posted it yesterday.
Gwen Smithies
prepared and gave each of us small "treasure boxes" at the women in ministries meeting. They contained various things to help us with our scrapbooking enterprises and also for each of us a postcard of a painting inspired by a biblical narrative.
We met in twos to discuss our pictures to tell the story told in them. Mine was the adoration of the shepherds. Telling the story of the pictures was an exercise in observation and imagination, in looking and seeing. I realise now with hindsight that groping for the story in the pictures was also an exercise in living with ambiguity; the pictures often told a different story from the ones we remembered and offered a different perspective. I really appreciated how the seminar encouraged us to think about ambiguity rather than easy answers, encouraging us to narrate the Bible's stories as a method for living with ambiguity.
The other person in my pair had this wonderful painting of Jesus at Martha and Mary's house in Bethany by Vermeer. This painting which I don't remember having seen before had quite an impact on me. The way that all of the light and energy of the moment of the conversation captured seems to be between Jesus and Martha. Fascinating too that the table dressed in altar-like white has bread that Martha has brought - she does rather seem to be presiding over it.
It is decades since Dorothee Sölle remarked how important it is for women to hold Martha and Mary together as biblical role models for ourselves, yet I wondered how we also internalise damaging narratives - putting ourselves down if we stop "doing" and try "being" - putting ourselves down if we try to do too much. Looking at the light and energy in this interpretation by Vermeer helped me reflect on and progress in Sölle's direction a bit.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Who says no one saw it coming?

At a time when many commentators and politicians say that no one predicted the global economic crisis, Dr B. is grateful to John Harris in the Guardian for pulling out this gem from former Labour chancellor Denis Healey´s autobiograhical memoir, The Time of my Life, written two decades ago:

Back then, wrote Denis Healey, "most western governments followed the lead set by President Reagan and Mrs Thatcher in removing the restrictions which had hitherto prevented the various financial institutions... from competing with one another for the same type of business." This, he said, "led to cut-throat competition" between the big financial corporations, who "lent money on paper-thin margins, often in areas they did not understand ... As if this was not enough, the desire to hedge against unpredictable changes in exchange rates and interest rates led to a feverish rash of new financial instruments, starting with swaps, futures, options, and options on futures ... Most of the new activities spawned by the financial revolution... assume that all trees grow up to the sky - that there will never be another recession. If the United States does have a recession, even one as modest as in the Carter years, its whole financial system could collapse like a pack of cards."
Harris notes, ¨ Sitting in the drawing room of his Sussex home, Healey listens to it all, then turns to me with the happily fatalistic look of someone who has lived through no end of economic and political turnabouts. ´Well, isn't it true?´ he says. ´There you are.´For an ex-chancellor, the irony must be sweet indeed: here, for once, is an economic forecast that turned out to be right on the money.¨

Call for day of prayer and fasting for Zimbabwe

The All African Conference of Churches has called for a day of prayer and fasting for Zimbabwe.
ENI reports today that:

"The present rule must be considered as illegitimate as it was an incomplete reflection of the will of the Zimbabwean people, given that the presidential run-off election in June 2008 was not free and fair and was marred by intimidation and political violence " said the AACC's new general secretary, the Rev. André Karamaga, in a statement on 15 January.

Karamaga said that presidential elections run-off in June 2008 were marred by intimidation and political violence, while he noted that the Zimbabwean people had continuously been denied long desired peace, justice and socio-economic health .

"We call on all our member churches, councils, fellowships and institutions; all friends in the worldwide ecumenical family; all our international partners and all people of good will to make January 25 an African Day of Prayer and Fasting for Zimbabwe," said the church leader.

AACC members had met in early December in Maputo, Mozambique, and acknowledged then that they themselves had been slow to respond to the crisis in Zimbabwe. The members also asserted their desire to work with the people of the country towards peace, justice and reconciliation. They also committed to pray for an end to illegitimate rule, while taking action through measures appropriate in their national contexts.

"The call is to join our Zimbabwean sisters and brothers in prayer and in fasting, in words and in deeds, in contemplation and in action,” said Karamaga, a Presbyterian theologian from Rwanda.

Around the world local churches are being encouraged to take part in the day, this is from the United Reformed Church site:

God of power and truth,
May your peace rest with the restless of Zimbabwe
May your love inspire the hearts of all those who long and work for justice
May your healing touch the wounds of those suffering and bereaved
May your truth be spoken in dangerous places
May we not be idle in working, praying, longing and searching for your Kingdom in this broken world.

In the meantime the Geneva Zimbawe Advocacy blog is carrying reports from Amnesty International and CIVICUS on the siutation in Zimbabwe.

Blessed are the cheesemakers

Sorry but I just couldn't resist writing this title when I got this from ENI:

Roman Catholic monks in Bosnia-Herzegovina have resumed production of a world-famous cheese almost two decades after they were forced to stop by the Balkans war.
"Our numbers fell and we were forced to cut back - and in 1996, we stopped making it completely when the last brother who knew the recipe died," explained Zvonko Topic, one of two surviving Trappist monks at the Marija Zvijezda, or Mary Star, monastery near Banja Luka. "But we've now decided to bring it back to consumers here, and we'll be opening a small shop soon for tourists and visitors." "This cheese is full-fat and hard - its taste will certainly be recognised by genuine gourmets," said the monk, whose order's 170 monasteries worldwide practice prayer, penance and silence, and are also noted for their beer and ale," Brother Topic told Ecumenical News International in a telephone interview.

The World Forum on Theology and Liberation

Fifteen hours after I arrived back from the UK Dr B flew to Brazil, to Belem to attend and report from the World Forum on Theology and Liberation which precedes the World Social forum which will also meet at the end of this month in Belem.

The 3rd WFTL will be a meeting for a theology of the sustainability of life on Earth. It will have to make a theological reflection and discourse on the basis of a very concrete and organic meaning of life, since the analysis of the social and political reality in the Amazonian context promotes a direct relationship with the earth, water and biodiversity and reveals the limits and alternatives of the relation of human beings with their immediate environment.

The programme kicks off on Wednesday with a lecture by Leonardo Boff concentrating on rituals of water. Speakers later in the week include Steve de Gruchy, Chung Hyun Kyung and Mercy Odoyuye and the site is available in four languages so check it out.

A space of encounter for a theological reflection about alternatives and possibilities for the world, with the purpose of contributing to the construction of a worldwide network of contextual theologies guided by perspectives of liberation. In an ecumenical spirit, it welcomes and promotes the expression of ecological spiritualities, encouraging a deeper understanding of global socioeconomic problems in the light of the resources of theology and vice-versa. It is a space that favors the dialogue between differences of gender, religion, ethnicity, culture, generation and physical capability, fostering a theology whose discourse contributes to inform transforming practices in society, in order to promote the formation of citizens who are active in the building of a new world of solidarity.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Where is home?

On my way back to Geneva from Windermere I visited my mother. My "home" is in Ferney Voltaire with Stephen but I often have quite strange emotions returning as an adult to the home I grew up in. Being confronted with the fact that I am both the person who grew up there and no longer at all quite the same. Confronted too with my own ability to regress to adolescence in the blink of an eye!
In so many ways this provincial semi urban but seemingly rural landscape formed me. The distant glorious horizons stretching out from the garden, the open skies and sunsets, the easy bus routes. The first humiliation was not being able to find the taxi rank in my home town; the second not being able to find the plates in my mum's kitchen! Then there was the absence in her house - not of my father but of a cat. I'd never been there without sharing the space with at least one cat and that was rather sad and I missed having a purring creature there - if I read this on someone else's blog I'd probably think it sounded a bit pathetic, these days I'm not very into pets.
Then there was the other reason I made the extra effort to visit. Another man is now sharing my mother's life and we're learning to become a blended family across European borders. I think my father's comment would be that at a time when the family seems always to be getting smaller it's good to welcome a new person in.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

The fat Jesus

As a result of taking some time out to be with others who read, think and do theology and church my reading list is growing. Coming across Lisa Isherwood's name following a morning prayer at the Women in Ministries I also learnt more about some of her work including the book Fat Jesus.
There's a link here to a good review in the Times HE supplement by Rachel Muers about it which says:

Isherwood presents a theological critique of what she perceives as a theological as well as a political and a social problem – the troubled relationship of women with food and their bodies, and society’s problem (it seems) with fat women. The fat body, Isherwood suggests, is read as the insufficiently controlled body, the “sinful” body, the body that is too material to be spiritual, the body that fails every test. Against this perception of the fat body she offers the image of the Fat Jesus – the Jesus in whose body boundaries are broken down, and fears of one’s own body and others’ bodies are overcome.
There's also further information here and an extracts from the blurb on Amazon about it:
A fascinating cultural history of our complex relationship with food, consumption and body image.
From Eve's apple to female saints nourished by the Eucharist alone, to the recent phenomenon of evangelical `Slim For Him' programmes that encourage women to lose physically and gain spiritually, the ways in which women relate to food, particularly in a religious context, are many and fascinating. In this engaging and accessible book, the author explores their complex connections and paradoxical messages, in which women are at once nurturers and temptresses, visionaries and hysterics, controllers of the meal table and excessive consumers.
Lisa Isherwood traces the links between beauty, slenderness and the Judeo-Christian God to ask why is there no fat Jesus and considers new ways of imagining desire, wholeness and self esteem in light of a Christian tradition that values asceticism and restraint. Drawing on case study material she also looks at the issue of eating disorders and their spiritual dimension, and the twin problems of obesity and over-consumption.
Clearly accessible for general readers, as well as those with a particular interest in theology, sociology of religion and gender studies, this book provides a fascinating cultural history of the complex ways in which food, women and religion interrelate.About the AuthorProfessor Lisa Isherwood is Professor of Feminist Liberation Theologies at the University of Winchester and is founder editor of the Feminist Theology journal. She has written/edited 14 books, including The Power of Erotic Celibacy, Liberating Christ and Patriarchs, Prophets and Other Villains.
So it looks as if I'm going to have to try and read this one alongside Raj Patel's Stuffed and Starved which I've also not agot around to buying yet. You can read a review here. The title seems also to have given birth to a blog - or maybe it's the other way around - it makes for salutory reading.

First woman bishop to be consecrated in Britain

I'm reposting a report here from the Thinking Anglican blog:

Martin Beckford reports on Britain’s first woman bishop to take office this weekend.
History will be made this weekend as the first female bishop to serve in a British church takes office.
However the Church of England continues to argue about how and when women should be introduced to the episcopate, while the Roman Catholic Church maintains that only men can serve as priests.
So it has been left to the Lutheran Church in Great Britain, which has just a few thousand worshippers, to become the first to take the radical step.
The Rev Jana Jeruma-Grinberga, whose parents were Latvian refugees but who was born in England, will be consecrated as the church’s first female bishop on Saturday at a ceremony in the City of London…
…A spokesman for the Lutherans said in a statement: “The Lutheran Church in Great Britain will consecrate its first woman bishop, the Rt Rev Jana Jeruma-Grinberga, on Saturday 17th January 2009, in the historic Wren church of St Anne & St Agnes on Gresham Street, in the City of London.
“Her predecessor, the Rt Rev Walter Jagucki, will preside at the service, and bishops and other clergy from Nordic and European Lutheran churches will participate in the consecration.”
More information about the Lutheran Church of Great Britain is
More information about UK-based Lutherans generally is

Friday, 16 January 2009

Remembering and learning by heart are not the same

I've just posted this to the Women in Ministries blog following our four days in the windermere centre relflecting on individual, communal and biblical narratives. It's been a great time despite a slight lack of sleep. It's been fun too to introduce otehrs to blogging and encourage them to use this tool to find their own voices - either indivudally or communally.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Jesus the Riddler helping us make connections between the different narratives

More reposting from the Women in ministries blog follows. I will write something more personal reflections over coming days. Hope this is interesting nevertheless.
On Wednesday morning we continued to remember the Bible stories we had done our scrapbooking about and in groups of two told each other the remembered story of the picture that our artistic works focused on. More of that a bit later on in another post I think.
As part of encopuraging us to begin to make the connections between the biblical, individual and communal narratives we are all part of and which are part of us, Janet Lees encouraged us to read Tom Thatcher's Jesus The Riddler which has some interesting ideas apparently about the parables as extended riddles in the oral culture that marked Jesus preaching and story-telling styles.
She also mentioned Mary Ann Beavis' book The Lost Coin which I've used with my feminist theology group (I'd particularly recommend the chapter on the wise and foolish virgins). The point being that paraboling, riddling perhaps too - and who knows maybe even scrapbooking and remembering - are to some extent ways of resolving the pain, ambiguity and darkness in life and understanding. The other point being that it is important to use more than one person's method in the understanding of the world of the Bible. Janet admitted to us that much as she had felt able to take up William Herzog's idea straight away she had found Thatcher's riddling idea rather more difficult to get to grips with in the first instance. Anyway we mention all of this for others to be able to add their ideas and comments - and in the hope that you will leave us some links too.

We'll do a post later about chaos and ambiguity following on form our powerful morning prayer reflection by Kate Gray but in the meantime here's some of the blurb about Jesus the Riddler:
As most readers of the New Testament know, the words of Jesus are often spoken in riddles?in parables and other sayings that were and continue to be difficult to understand. Tom Thatcher explains in his latest book that Jesus may have been intentionally ambiguous, using riddles to establish his authority as a teacher and to encourage his followers to think more deeply about the nature of truth. Jesus? riddles, like riddles across many cultures, potentially refer to many different things, and they challenge those who hear them to decode the meaning the riddler intends. Figuring out the riddles in which Jesus spoke requires a depth of faith and close attention to the words of the gospel. With text boxes and helps to the reader, this book guides readers through discerning these puzzling and important words

Caravaggio and Salley Vickers for the remembered Bible

Ok so I'm still cheating by reposting some of what I'm writing at the women in ministries blog back here. Sorry about that some normal blogging service will be resumed sometime soon. At the moment my two main challenges are typing on a UK keyboard again and using the projector screen as the computer screen. A bit of a problem if I forget to put on my glasses! Anyway we are proud to announce the first comments at women in ministries so please continue supporting us.
One of the books we listened to extracts from on Tuesday morning was Salley Vickers' The Other side of You which has some fascinating scenes where one of the characters is confronted at differnt points in the book with the two very different paintings of the Road to Emmaus that the artist Caravaggio painted at the beginning and end of his life respectively. So now maybe you can guess which is which - I think all of us will be wanting to buy Salley Vickers' book now. (And just a note to all you editors Salley is spelt with an e in this case - from willow in Irish - click on the links to her website to find out more.)

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Taking the name ...

At the end of our session on kennings and after we had finished filling in our wonderful Bible fish on the first evening, Janet in her inimitable style read this poem she wrote a few months ago. Pause before saying the final two words somewhat expletively.

Taking the name ...

We are all like him:
born once
in a place we don't choose.
subjects of another empire.
Lost as children
by innate curiosity
or poor parenting.
Baptised as adults
by air, fire or water.
We wander,
collecting some,
discarding others,
teaching a few,
healing fewer.
We attend, more or less
to our bodies;
eating, drinking remembering.
At the end
we die once
and forall,
hoping to rise
in love and memory
for fifty days
or more,
In vain we take the name:

Jesus Christ!

copyright (c) Janet A. Lees 2008

The beginnings of a remembered reading list for Vision4life

So this is a bit of a cheat really because this post is also over on the women in ministries blog here where we've been blogging and talking about blogging and creating blogs all afternoon. Fortunately I'm not the only blogger so that really helped. You can read Kate Gray's blog here. We are however still have connection problems which is quite a blogging challenge - as you can see we are coping - though I'm not coping so well with the UK keyboard - my ys and zs are getting mixed up.

One of the great things about all meeting up as a group is that we get to talk about books we're reading, have read or might like one day to read. Over supper on our first evening Sheila Maxey talked about a Book of Silence by Sara Maitland that she's reading. As is the way when talking about books and remembering this led some of to remember other books by Sara Maitland and I think that the one many of us remember reading first is Walking on the Water: women talk about spirituality from 1983 which she edited together with Jo Garcia. (I have to say that none of us could actually remember the title but thank goodness for google which helps us piece our failing memories together!)
Meanwhile Janet Lees prepared a booklist to help us make connections between the Vision4Life year of the Bible and techniques for remembering the Bible and we'll post the whole of that to the blog as the dazs progress but at our Tuesday morning session she showed us some of the wonderful work of Sheffield artist Dinah Roe Kendal and her book Allegories of Heaven: An Artist Explores the Greatest Story Ever Told Piquant, PO Box 83, Carlisle, CA3 9GR ( ISBN 1 903689 12 0. The pictures are wonderful and helped us share and meditate on some classics by the old masters that we'd been given in our scrapbooking treasure boxes the previous evening.
Janet also encouraged us to read two books by William Herzog Parables as subversive speech. Jesus as pedagogue of the oppressed and Prophet and teacher an introduction to the historical Jesus. She encouraged us to think about his perspectives on the strucutres of society in 1st century Palestine and the differences between that time and British 21st century culture. Weaving and enabling the remembering of the Bible we have to be aware of the connections and the diconnections between that time and society and our own.
Anyway, now we've done the beginning we can promise more of the middle and the end of the reading list as we progress. In the meantime I'm hoping that once I've posted this some of my colleagues here may make some suggestions in the comments section about other books they are reading.

Kennings for remembering the Bible

The first session of the Women in Ministry meeting I'm attending in Windermere was led by my friend Janet Lees and encouraged us to use "kennings" to remember the Bible. She handed out some gospel kennings to us and encouraged us to talk about the gospel story they maybe helped us remember.
It was fun and the kennigs she'd prepared beforehand were very powerful - the two I got given were "tear shedder" and "tomb quitter".
The conversation about how comfortable we feel about rememebring was also helpful an interesting - do we need to be able to remember the Bible perfectly or is it ok when telling the remembered story to tell it in the same way that you might tell any other story - "Oh you know what's his name was there too..."

We talked about how each of have a rememebered Bible within us and then filled in some wonderful Bible fish with our remembered Bibles. More and some picutres soon.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Let the train take the strain ...

I'm travelling to Britain this week where I am attending a gathering on Women in Ministry at the Windemere Centre in the Lake District in northwest England. I'm sad to say that I shall fly to and from Geneva.
After the meeting I'm going down to my home town of Redditch just south of Birmingham. My travel agent (aka Dr B) now has several handfuls of hair less than he did before after trying to book the relatively straightforward train journey from Windemere to Redditch, via Birmingham. On Thursday evening he checked the prices and found an advance purchase ticket costs 29 pounds, while a turn-up-as-you-go full fare ticket costs a whopping 57 pounds (at today's crazy exchange rates that's 64 euros - in more normal times maybe 80 euros, more than the fullfare buy-on-the-day 75 euro ticket for the 624 kilometre journey from Geneva to Paris on a TGV) - When he came to book the ticket yesterday, the cheap ticket was gone and the full fare ticket the only option (apart from an "off peak" ticket, which is supposedly cheaper than an "anytime" ticket but in fact costs an extra 12 pounds or so). However, by splitting the journey up into its three component parts, and by buying separate advance tickets, he got back to the original 29 pound offer - the reason it seems is that the advance tickets are tied to individual train operators and the supply of advance tickets that cover more than one train operator are more limited than those for the separate journey).
This prompted Dr B (who does have, it must be said, some trainspotting tendancies) to do some more research. He found, for example, that the unrestricted fare (no advance tickets available) for the 06.05 from Liverpool to London (345 kilometres) is £115, but if you buy three separate tickets between intermediate stations, the price comes down to 97.50 (without even needing to get off the train). On the route from Newcastle to London, a ticket that can be used on any offpeak train costs 104 pounds while the system offers an advance purchase ticket for an offpeak train at 105 pounds. This chaos is caused by the utterly disastrous Tory railway privatisation.
The UK department of transport claims that "European standard fares, used by the majority of passengers, are sometimes misleadingly contrasted with the highest UK open fares which are used by only 10-15% of passengers on a typical inter-city route. The remaining 85% of passengers pay the same or less than in comparable parts of Europe". However, the transport department is now switching the comparison by comparing restricted cheaper tickets with European standard tickets, when like-for-like would be to compare restricted tickets with restricted tickets - and in any case, ignores the fact that the reason why the majority of UK rail travellers use discount tickets is because the standard prices are so high!! The UK transport department signs off with glee, "Most European countries have a less differentiated fares' structure, but are now beginning to follow the UK’s lead." If this is the result of competition, then let us be preserved from the opening of competition on international rail services in Europe in 2010. Meanwhile, Chiltern Railways, which operates in the part of the country I come from, effectively passed into German state ownership after Deutche Bahn bought its parent company. Perhaps this will be a good things. In the same week that we've been trying to book my UK tickets we've also booked a Deutsche Bahn through (though restricted) train ticket first class from Geneva to Bremen, a return for just 168 euros and that's 787 kilometres each way.

Biribi Wo Soro - There's something in the heavens

Biribi Wo Soro (There is Something in the Heavens)

Extracts from a poem by Mercy Amba Odoyuye

We know it.
There is something in the heavens
God, let it reach us.
Our hands are stretched out in supplication
For we know it.
There is something in the heavens
God, let it reach us.
Peace with justice
Sharing the earth’s bounties
Justice for peace
People with compassion for the fallen
We know it.
God, there is something in the heavens
Let it reach us.
We sow the seeds of hope
We expect a harvest of love
We sow the seeds of justice
We expect a harvest of peace
We sow the seeds of compassion
We expect a harvest of solidarity
God, rain upon our efforts
The rain that transforms is from you.
We know there is something in the heavens
God, let it reach our hands.
Our hope is real.

Mercy Amba Oduyoye, ‘Biribi Wo Soro’, Voices from the Third World in
Living in Hope, by Ezra Chitando.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Happy new year ... and all that ...

The news tells me that at least 200 children are amongst those killed in the current war in Gaza.
The Geneva Zimbabwe Advocacy blog brings news of the daily catastrophe that Zimbabweans are living through.
This week I held a friend in my arms wishing her happy new year - somehow I try to make this a special hug, to make my hands communicate to her the compassion I have for her situation. Just months ago her brilliant son took his own life.
Another friend is in hospital again, her cancer has returned ...
Other friends have returned from spending Christmas with family of their nephew following his murder.
I received an email telling me gently but firmly that a friend and her husband are separating.

Others worry about their jobs and their pensions, want advice on what to do next, how to write their CVs, as their organisation cuts back and restructures.

Sometimes holding things together is hard. But then that is God's work not mine.

Gaza Emergency Appeal from Physicians for Human Rights-Israel

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel have launched an appeal for money to buy urgently needed medical equipment

Gaza Hospitals Already Filled to Capacity; Medical Supplies on the Verge of Depletion
Since the beginning of attacks in Gaza, over 300 people have been reported dead, more than 1000 wounded, and many hundreds more are in need of immediate medical attention. With a medical system already on the verge of collapse as a result of the ongoing closure, 1.4 million
civilians are in desperate need of urgent medical help from outside the Gaza Strip. PHR-Israel has the means to transfer this help within days and is seeking to raise 700,000 USD during the next week for purchase and direct transfer of supplies to Gaza hospitals.
Palestinian hospitals in the Gaza Strip have asked us for help in securing the following items:
· Basic Sterilization equipment · Needles · Dressings · Anesthetics · Catheters · Medical gases
· Endo-tracheal tubes · Laryngoscope · Oxygen · Portable monitors, ventilators, ultrasounds and x- ray machines · Clothing for medical teams · 105 Essential Medications · 225 Additional Medical Supplies · 93 Laboratory items · Electric Shaving Machine · Trolleys · Hospital beds
As the situation stands, Palestinian doctors are performing surgeries without surgical gloves, local or general anesthetics, gauze, sterilized equipment or sufficient oxygen for patients. All together, there are only 1,500 hospital beds available in Gaza's 13 publicly run hospitals. A
fleet of 60 ambulances is now reduced by half. The endless flow of new wounded and the need for beds has led to a suspension of care for dozens of other patients, including cancer, cardiac, and other chronically ill patients, who have all been sent to their homes for the duration of the crisis. Patients are not being permitted entry to Egypt and all referrals out of Gaza via Erez crossing have been suspended.

The British Shalom-Salaam Trust is collecting funds on PHR-I's behalf and will transfer donations and associated Gift Aid. You can make credit card donations online via the Charities Aid Foundation here. Cheques made payable to BSST and sent to: BSST, PO Box 46081, London W9 2ZF - quoting PHR-I

Digitalising Bonhoeffer's papers

Madeline Chambers has written an interesting piece for Faith World about an appeal for funds to digitalise the Paper's of Dietrich Bonheoffer, a prominent member of the Confessing Church in Nazi Germany.

The Berlin state library says it needs 40,000 euros to save the documents which it counts as one of its most prized collections. It wants to put about 6,200 pages of his work on the Internet to make them more widely available.

The papers include the farewell letter Bonhoeffer wrote to his parents before his execution in a concentration camp in 1945, just days before the end of World War Two, for opposing Hitler. He was 39.

Bonhoeffer's legacy is fascinating. His life story speaks deeply to people around the world even today. Here was a Christian not only committed to and interested in theology but also fully engaged in a personal very costly way with the society of his time and place. The struggle with issues of pacifism and how far one can go ethically to combat evil are still live ones for our own time.

There's also a translation interest. For more than a decade a group of translator and scholars have been working on a new English translation of his complete works and much of this has now been published.

Meanwhile I must also remember to mention this project to my colleagues at the WCC library where the archives also house a few letters from Bonhoeffer.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Advocacy for peace and justice in Gaza from the YWCA and YMCA networks

See more photos here. Read the joint advocacy initative sent out by the YWCA and YMCA which have also just sent out the following round up of information:

The Israel Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA), issued a statement in which they condemned the Israeli massacre of Palestinians in Gaza, indiscriminate slaughter of hundreds of civilians, the wounding of thousands, and the destruction of homes, hospitals, schools, mosques and economic infrastructure. The Network stands with the victims of this atrocious massacre and called for the support of an immediate cease-fire.

The Korean YMCA in Japan has translated the JAI Call for Action and sent them to YMCA members and staff all over Japan and Korea. They are going to have many protest actions and demonstrations in this weekend.

Lene Suh Nicolaisen - International Secretary - National Council of YMCA and YWCA in Denmark has issued a solidarity letter with the people of Gaza, understanding Israel responsibility for the disproportional escalation of the current situation. The YMCA and YWCA in Demark organized a Candle vigil prayer and is joining a letter with other NGOs to the Danish minister of foreign affairs urging him and the Danish government to work to end the injustices in Gaza within the framework of the EU.

Bergen ICY (Internationally Committed Youth), formed by the YMCA-YWCA of Norway, as they work to raise awareness about the situation in Gaza, participated at the demonstration for peace in Gaza in which several thousands marched in, and prayed for the civilians who are affected by the conflict.

Ingela Fredriksson - Chair of International Committee and Lisa Grotherus - International Secretary - YWCA-YMCA of Sweden, the international committee of the Swedish YWCA-YMCA strongly condemned the violence from the Israeli state leading to the large number of deaths and injuries of civilian people in the Gaza strip. It welcomed the announcements from the UN and the World Alliance of YMCA's concerning the need of an immediate stop of the violence which we hope will be realized in the near future. They expressed that we are in their thoughts.

Winchester YMCA, Michael Scott-Joynt, Bishop of Winchester, as President of Winchester YMCA invited people urgently for a prayer for peace in the Middle East on the 8th of January at the United Church.

Jacques Willemse, World Council of Churches Special Representative to Sudan, expressed from Nairobi his solidarity and understanding to the injustice Palestinians are subjected to, and wished his colleagues at the YMCA-YWCA the strength and wisdom.Margaret Boden - Christians-Aid Ireland, reported that Christian Aid Ireland were on Radio on the 7th of January in Belfast to forward the JAI call for breaking the silence and taking actions, which they have also forwarded to many newspapers.

YWCA of Jordan invited people for a special vigil service to show solidarity with the people in Gaza. They encouraged people to light a candle.Les Gibbons (UK), participant at the JAI Olive Picking Program 2008 invited people to join in on a candle vigil for Gaza. There was a silent tribute of 30 min to the victims of the war on Gaza. He encouraged people to bring poems, reflections, and candles.

Maria Fernanda, a Brazilian journalist and participant at the JAI Journey for Justice Program 2007, is getting in touch with people living in Gaza in order to report their stories and experiences for a Brazilian news website. She believes that this would be an effort to show Brazilian readers what the situation is really like as Brazilian media in most cases portrays the Israeli side of the story.The YWCA and YMCA in East Jerusalem organized and invited people to come for a vigil service to show their solidarity with their brothers and sisters in Gaza.

Karl Dallas (UK), participant at the JAI Olive Picking Program 2008, joined a demonstration in Bradford, UK, where over 3000 people participated. He has also signed a letter that has been circulating around in his community to be sent to Barack Obama to ask him to put the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on top of his foreign policy lists of issues.Helga Serrano - YMCA in Ecuador, is preparing a general statement to be sent out about what is happening in Gaza. She also translated a statement made by the Joint Advocacy Initiative from English to Spanish so that the statement can be sent out to other Latin American countries.

Scott Weatherstone (UK), participant at the JAI Olive Picking Program 2008, joined a demonstration in Edinburgh to protest against the war crimes being done by Israel in Gaza. He also encouraged people to join other demonstrations around in the UK by making a list of the time and place of the demonstrations.Kristel - the JAI Olive Tree Campaign coalition in Holland has joined and reported on demonstrations, marches and protests in Holland to show support for Gaza. She has forwarded pictures and information. She has also encouraged people to take actions and sign petitions.

Joop Hoekstra (Netherlands), participant at the JAI Olive Picking Program 2008, reported that over 100 people had joined in on a demonstration in Groningen to show their support for Gaza.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Anguished Hope

Sometimes it is just wonderful that I have to walk through the WCC library to get to my office (when there are no staff in the library and the library users also walk into my office this is sometimes less wonderful but hey c'est la vie). This morning arriving at work Dr B found this book Anguished Hope: Holocaust Scholars confronting the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict. Looks like the right book for me to read at the moment as I try to sort out my feelings and thoughts on this issue, particularly following the conference I attended in Bern last year on theological perspectives on the Promised Land.

More than 20 years ago my undergraduate dissertation was on "The Confessing Church and Anti-Semitism". It was an important piece of research for me to write but I realise how much the debate has moved on and how much I personally need to be challenged by that now. So finding this book and being able to sign it out of the library as the first person to borrow it really is one of the perks of my job. And I'm on holiday next week so I might even have time to read it. Each essay is followed by questions from the other contributors and then the author's response once more. It looks very interesting. More on it soon - the real challenge in terms of my reading is concentrating on the serious stuff and not letting myself get sidetracked by all that great detective fiction ...
In the meantime "anguished hope" would also be a great title for a sermon.

A Prayer from Israel and Palestine

The following prayer has been sent to WCC member churches as part of a call to prayer for the people of Gaza. You can also read about churches mobilising for peace here.
However as I have repreated at our midday prayers for peace:
when words fail us we turn to prayer;
when words fail us we still turn to the Word of words;
when words fail us God still listens ...

God of mercy and compassion,
Of grace and reconciliation,
Pour your power upon all your children in the Middle East.
Let hatred be turned into love, fear to trust,
Despair to hope, oppression to freedom,
Occupation to liberation,
That violent encounters may be replaced by loving embraces,
And peace and justice could be experienced by all.

From Imagine Peace,
a devotional resource from the WCC Decade to Overcome Violence, 2008.

Kurt Tucholsky and the financial crisis

On our last day in Berlin at Christmas, we walked back to our hotel along the banks of the River Spree. In doing so we crossed the Tucholskystrasse, named after the pre-Second World War left-wing writer and satirist whose works were banned by the Nazis and who died in exile in Sweden. Imagine then Dr B's surprise when on the train back to Switzerland, he opened the financial section of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung and found an article by Kurt Tucholsky where otherwise you might expect to read an editorial. The Frankfurter Allgemeine is anything other than a left-wing or satirical magazine. Its conservative outlook is reflected right down to its use of typography and it has the reputation of being the literary expression of finance capital.

The article reprinted in the Frankfurter Allgemeine is called "A short description of macroeconomics" and was first published in 1931 in the left-wing Weltbühne magazine: "Macroeconomics is the metaphysics of the poker player," wrote Tucholsky. "Every economy is based on the credit system, or, in other words, on the erroneous assumption that the other person will repay the money that they have been given. If they don't do that, there is then a so-called "support action", in which everyone, except the state, can make money. You can recognise when such a crash takes place in that people are called upon to have confidence. In any case they usually don't have much else. If the entrepreneur has placed all of the money abroad, then this is usually referred to as representing the 'seriousness of the situation'."

Reading through the Wikipedia entry on Tucholsky I was struck by how he was an exact contemporary of my Berlin grandfather - both fought for in the German army during the first world war and both studied law in Berlin. Both will also have experienced the hyperinflation of the 1920s.
I was also moved by the story of Tucholsky's struggles against political tyrrany and with chronic illness. He took his own life in 1935. If you get the chance to visit the Tucholsky museum in the castle in Rheinsberg I'd recommend it, an easy day trip from Berlin. Tucholsky also worked behind the scenes to get the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Carl von Ossietsky. Many of these people are forgotten outside the German-speaking world.
The final entry in wikipedia also left me pondering a translation conundrum. Tucholsky's gravestone, put up after the end of the second world war, has as its inscription "Alles vergängliche ist nur ein Gleichnis" , which comes from Goethe's Faust part II, Wikipedia then gives the translation into English:"All that is transitory is but a symbol". Of course "symbol" scans better than "parable" which is the word I would choose for Gleichnis ... but somehow I rather like the idea of all that is transitory being but a parable ... perhaps a useful economic reflection as well.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

What makes God laugh? - People making plans ...

It's the beginning of a new year and I'm planning, trying to find time for holidays, my course in Rome and the writing of my diploma which needs to happen before the end of the year. Booking tickets, trying to remember to fit in visits to my neurologist, go to the hairdresser and so on. With colleagues too we are looking at the year ahead and trying to work out how we will be able to cope with the meetings planned - will there be time to do everything? Can we fit it all in? Life, love and the whole caboodle?
Underlying all of this I am also trying to make a rather major decision - about which more as the year progresses perhâps - unless of course I make no decision. So as I meditate my plans and God's laughter I do rather wonder what the point of all this angst, decision-making and planning might be. But hey if it makes God happy who am I to complain, I dare say not much else I do does.

Does Gaza consign faith to the dustbin of history?

John Marsh, who lives in my home town of Redditch, and is moderator to the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church at the moment ends a message on the situation in Gaza with these words:

It is scandalous that the wise traditions of our historic faiths should be subverted by powerful secular interests to justify defending any one community at any price. Such manipulation can never be for the common good or the wider peace. Political and military power, disconnected from the lively spiritual God-centred peace at the heart of our three religions, offers no prospect of healing or justice for anyone.

Yet our three faiths are also the means by which these precious gifts may be offered to Palestine/Israel - and to the wider world. If Islam, Judaism and Christianity fail in this, our faiths will be roundly condemned and rightly consigned to the dustbin of history.

You can read his full reflection here.

Babel, translation and the Wombman's Bible

Kurk Gayle has been writing some brilliant and fascinating posts over at WOMBman's Bible. This post on circumcision is both erudite and funny (and you must follow the links). The various posts on translation theory in 15 minutes are great as well. Here's an extract from a post entitled sucking the body out of translation:

"Dynamic equivalence," "formal equivalence," "literary equivalence," and "relevance theory" are the King methodologies in the Western world today. To be sure, missionary Bible translators are exporting these methods as if they're straight from God himself, as "infallible" as the text of the "Word of God" surely must be.
When a woman such as Karen H. Jobes comes along to suggest that translation really is better conceived as "simultaneous interpretation," then the Western men (and some women) get all excited to consider the "new" idea. But then they return to what they've always been doing: using Aristotelian and Platonic (i.e., Greek women-hating male) theories of language and of language translation. Some time back I read an article about how the translators for the U.S. military in Iraq jeopardize their own person, their own families even, when they are simultaneous translators. The enemies of America don't take too kindly to such translators. There's personal risk. Jobes knows that too.

This new enterprise of translating the Bible from the Greek septuagint text has also inspired a snowbound Suzanne Macarthy to take up her keyboard and write an inspiring series of posts about the "babble from Babel" part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6,
Here's an extract from Babel 6:

Here is the second half of Gen. 11:3 in several different forms.

נִלְבְּנָה לְבֵנִים‏
niləbənâ ləḇēnîm ‏‏
let us make bricks,

‎ ‏‏ וְנִשְׂרְפָה לִשְׂרֵפָה
wəniśərəfâ liśərēfâ
and burn them thoroughly

הַלְּבֵנָה לְאָבֶן
halləḇēnâ lə’āḇen
brick for stone

וְהַחֵמָר לַחֹמֶר
wəhaḥēmār laḥōmer:
and slime for mortar

In these four lines the second proposition repeats the sounds of the first one. The first two times this is achieved by using a cognate word, a related word, really a different form of the first word. In the third line, the two words are not related semantically but are still similar in sound. In the fourth line, the words are once again related.

Four lines each having a repeated set of sounds, creates the "babel" or "babble" of the people talking, the meaninglessness of the yammering, the repetitive nature of this talk, whose goal was to promote the building of a city and a tower. No wonder God broke it up and dispersed these people.

Let's try this. (linking words are omitted with the readers indulgence.

bake ourselves bricks
fire them with fire
brick for block
bitumen for bond

Wonderful stuff. Both blogs are really getting to grips in a wonderfully joyous way with the hard slog that is translation and interpretation. They engage with their subject matter and give their readers much to think about - edifying, educational and entertaining. It's also fascinating to see them stripping away the layers of translation accretions between the Greek, Hebrew and English and making discoveries as the translation is done.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

More reflections on Gaza

Simon Barrow has written an interesting piece for Ekklesia called on not being left eyeless in Gaza.
... the misuse of religion is usually much more dangerous than its straightforward denial, which is why for the biblical prophets the opposite of 'good faith' was idolatry (believing in something false) not atheism (a refusal of belief).
Here's a prime example. Over the past few days the ancient biblical tradition of lex talionis - "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" - has been wheeled out on numerous occasions to legitimate in some way or other the appalling cycle of violence in Gaza. Protagonists on both sides have employed it.

Read the rest here.

There is also an interesting piece here by Mient Jan Faber who writes about how experience of dialogue in Palestine made him think afresh about the ethical foundations of political action. He ends the reflection on his encounters in Gaza by saying this:
For me, encountering terrorism thrust me back to my own core values. When I found myself talking to terrorist leaders I gained a new appreciation of my Calvinist roots. Now, for their part, it was only when they understood I would condemn my own father if he had been a terrorist, that they realised my effort to understand them in no way meant that I could excuse or accept what they did.