Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Tender mercy ...

By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace. Luke 1. 78-79

When he was a child this was the Bible passage given to him when he was baptised. One morning last week in the flower of youth just 17 years old he didn't wake up. Translated his name means blessing. He was his parents' "one and only". Tomorrow family and friends will gather for the funeral.
I pray that the memory of all he was will give light to those who are in the shadow of death.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

St Francis reprayed ...

Over at Novice Blogger my best friend Janet Lees has been writing about remembering the Bible and Vision4Life.
Meanwhile her life mate, Bob Warwicker has also started blogging again in splendid low key style - he started before any of us really, way back when he posted every day from his epic Land's End to John of Groats walk on End to End via the Margins. Bob ministers in Huddersfield.
Janet's also written this great re-working of the prayer of St Francis:

Make me a channel of your peace:
where there is chaos,
may patterns emerge;
where there are words,
sentences take shape;
where there are fragments,
stories unfold.

For it is in remembering we forget,
in forgiving we are released to forgive,
and in listening we are empowered to speak;
in fighting we discover our need of peace,
in hugging we gain courage to let go,
and in creating we set free the stuff of life.

copyright (c) Janet Lees

Word of the week - Pimavera

Spring is late this year so the primroses - les primevères in French - are still flowering in profusion. They are so lovely and seeing them flowering in likely and unlikely places gladdens my spirit.
In these mountainous parts we'll still be able to find them much later in the season once the snow melts from the top of the Jura. The meadows there often have examples of primroses, cowslips and oxslips growing side by side. Dr B doesn't really understand my enthusiasm for such things.
This past week we have often had three seasons in one day - snow, gales, rain and sunshine. The humble primrose seems to cope with it all and raise its pretty faces to the sky - they must be special they even survive and flourish in my neglected garden. Not surprising then that in some languages they actually take the name of Spring - and there was me thinking that primavera was the name of a pizza!

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Picture hope

Shutter Sisters Dream Assignment: Picture Hope from LittlePurpleCow Productions on Vimeo.

Hat tip once again to Maggi Dawn for pointing to this project by Shutter Sisters called Picutre Hope. I really like the idea of getting photographers to pitch for their dream assignment and then giving them money to help finance it and make dream a reality. I am also moved by the collaborative inspiration behind the Shutter Sisters project. You can check out their Dream Assignment here and if you like it you can vote for them before April 3rd and help make their dream a reality.

Read the spoof FT for the upcoming G20

Anti-capitalism campaigners have published a spoof edition of the Financial Times - that pink paper which is the Stranzblog's guilty secret.
You can read it here. It's very well done - all of the adverts and bits and pieces try to get the environmental message across. My favourite bit so far is the spoof on the atheist bus slogan
There's probably no cod. Now stop asking for it and eat more sustainably.

I admit to also rather enjoying the Blair pilgrimmage story:

Tony Blair, the former prime minister, received a ritual scourging outside Notre Dame Cathedral yesterday as he continued on his expiatory pilgrimage to Rome.
Dressed in bright orange sackcloth, and wearing the ashes of British parliamentary democracy on his head, the penitent was beaten about the face and body by personal envoys of Pope Jeanne I, costumed as apes and eating Camembert.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Thorns in the flesh and jewels in the crown

I've been taking morning prayers for most of this week and this morning as we ended the working week I chose a reading from 2 Corinthians 12 which includes, "Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given to me in the flesh"
The form our morning prayers take depends mainly on who is leading them and whether there are enough of us to dare to sing. Often after the Bible reading we simply keep silence. This morning as we looked back at the past working week I remembered our friend Pauline Mackay telling us about Pauline Webb speaking about at the Harare assembly of the WCC in 1998.
Nelson Mandela visited the assembly and the WCC's controversial programme to combat racism was celebrated. Pauline Webb spoke reflectively at a side event about the PCR - as it is known - saying very astutely that what is celebrated now as the jewel in the crown of the WCC's legacy had actually for many years been the thorn in the institution's flesh.
Sometimes it is the things we struggle most with that become the making of us, but of course this is another case of life being lived forwards and understood backwards.

Rowan Williams on the environment

Thanks to a comment on Seven Weeks for Water I've been reading some notes from Rowan Williams on the environment as an issue of justice:
Getting our relationship with the rest of the created order into proper perspective is both a responsibility and a necessity. Failure could have disastrous consequences especially for some of the poorest and most vulnerable. "There is no way of manipulating our environment that is without cost or consequence ... we are inextricably bound up with the destiny of our world."

Rowan Williams describes:
"what unintelligent and ungodly relation with the environment looks like. It is partial .....It focuses on aspects of the environment that can be comparatively easily manipulated for human advantage and ignores inconvenient questions about what less obvious connections are being violated. It is indifferent, for example, to the way in which biodiversity is part of the self-balancing system of the world we inhabit. It is impatient: it seeks returns on labour that are prompt and low-cost, without consideration of long-term effects. It avoids or denies the basic truth that the environment as a material system is finite and cannot indefinitely regenerate itself in ways that will simply fulfil human needs or wants. And when such unintelligent and ungodly relation prevails, the risks should be obvious."

Is freedom the same thing as liberty?

"If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear." George Orwell

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Word of the day "moneytheism"

This headline made me smile today "Will the global financial crisis mark the end of "moneytheism"?"
You can read more about here.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Leave a message on Noah's answerphone - Seven Weeks for Water with David Pickering

My friend and one time fellow-student David Pickering has written this week's meditation on Seven Weeks for Water. David chairs Operation Noah in the UK and ministers in Leeds. When he started training for the ministry he had just finished his doctorate in environmental studies. I can still well remember some of his prayers and also tales about sediment at the bottom of lakes and what this can tell you.

David edits the monthly environmental page in the United Reformed Church's magazine Reform. Here's a taster of what he says on Seven Weeks:
Mindful of climate change and the real threat to water and life, what can you or your community do to follow in Noah’s footsteps and walk with God?
After the flood God gave Noah the rainbow as a sign of commitment to the whole world. Reflecting on God’s multi-coloured rainbow promise never to bring a flood again, what rainbow promise does your faith community want to make to God and to your children and children’s children and all living creatures?
Read more here.
Picture: Gaspirtz.

A Feminist translation of the Qu'ran?

Hat-tip to Deirdre Good for pointing to Irshad Manji's blog and the project to make a new translation of the Quran. Manji writes:
This translation could have been available three years ago. You’ve likely never heard about it because the translators — two women and a man, all of them Muslim-Americans — have had a helluva time getting published. They reached a deal with a major U.S. publishing house. But after the Prophet Muhammad cartoon riots, the publishing house bailed on its contract.

Anyway you can download the translation here or buy a hard copy here.

Manji's site also has interesting links to a film she made called Faith without Fear.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

What were you doing twenty years ago?

As I look back to twenty years ago and begin to feel even more boring and old than usual I realised that 20 years ago I was preparing to lead worship for Holy Week for the first time. I was the student minister at Gerard's Cross URC during the holidays in 1988-1989. My memory of that it is that my Good Friday sermon in an ecumenical setting went rather better than the Easter sermon.
I also went to watch the Oxford-Cambridge boat race live for the only time in my life!
Just before Holy Week a group of us from college went to Southall (in North London) to work with John Parry and Froukien Smit and experience life in the inter-religious project there. Our group of men and women were welcomed into Mosques, Gurdwaras and Hindu Temples. This was a time of heightened tensions. January had seen copies of Salman Rushdie's book Satanic Verses being burned in the street in Bradford.
I can still remember: the utterly amazing food we ate that week - just how many chapatis did we get through; the beautiful moving ceremony we attended at the Sikh Gurdwara as the Guru Granth Sahib - the scriptures - are put to bed; our time with the Southall Black Sisters and with the sergeant at the local police station; the evening visit to the Hindu temple for prayers; our Bible studies and prayers as a group; the sound of the men washing to prepare for prayer in the Mosque. I realise that I also kept some kind of journal on pieces of looseleaf A4 of those days, they were a powerful time of linking theology, politics, feminism and social concern, and a very important part of my training for the ministry. I left Southall to go to Gerards Cross, just up the road but light years away, from inner city to stock-broker belt.
On Maundy Thursday we held a foot washing liturgy together with the Methodist congregation, I found myself kneeling at the feet of the police sergeant we had quizzed on issues of domestic and racial violence. He looked at me in recognition as I washed his feet. Afterwards he came up to me and said "You were the one asking all the difficult questions!"
Twas ever thus!

Thanks to last week's New Stateman (yes we get our copy a week late) for triggering some of these memories. 1989 The Year of the Crowd - I liked this from the Future Belongs to Crowds:

The memorable events of history, wrote the psychologist Gustave Le Bon in his book The Crowd, “are the visible effects of the invisible changes of human thought”. Writing in 1895, less than 50 years after the publication of the Communist Manifesto, he believed that the future of politics belonged to the masses, and predicted that society was on the cusp of “the era of crowds”.
Even in an age of mass political activity, 1989 stands out as a year of profound change and convulsion. This issue is dedicated to recalling some of its more dramatic crowd set pieces. “When a civilisation is rotten,” Le Bon wrote, “it is always the masses that bring about its downfall.” By 1989, the communist states of eastern Europe were corrupt and decaying; yet it was the power of crowds which pulled the Iron Curtain down during a time of extraordinary optimism.

Switch the light out on for an hour on Saturday

Will you be switching off the lights for an hour on Saturday at 20.30 local time?
Find out more here.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Holy Disorder

Twenty years ago this spring I was trying to sort out the various formalities for getting a visa to go the German Democratic Republic to study theology for a year.
In the end it all worked out well and I arrived in Wittenberg in early September 1989. Even today when I mention I studied theology in the GDR many people look very puzzled and ask whether that was really possible.
I lived through world changing events and experienced churches fuller than at any revival meeting. Early on in the demonstrations I also felt real fear about how things would develop. It is quite an experience to stand up in church to lead prayers and face a dozen secret police sitting on the first row.
It was the first and only time in my life that I kept a diary. One of the things I must try and do this year is transcribe some of what I wrote then.
The churches in central Germany are marking the 20th anniversary of the process leading the fall of the Berlin wall with a series of events called "Gesegnete Unruhe"- Holy Disorder. You can even send Holy disorder e-postcards to raise awareness of the anniversary and the events.
This was the revolution of candles, Psalms and Taizé songs, it was the revolution of Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation. You can read an interview with the year's coordinator Ralf-Uwe Beck in which he talks both about ordinary household candles as an important symbol but also about how marking the anniversary is important for people in the region today, a way to encourage people's self-confidence and faith - look at what we managed to do together 20 years ago.
When I finished my year in the GDR and went back the UK I wondered whether I would ever again experience the Bible having such immediate personal and political resonance. I grieved for that short-lived time when faith and life and action somehow seemed to dovetail. By the time I got back to the UK the country I had just lived in for a year was about to no longer exist.
"What is past is not dead, it is not even past. We cut ourselves off from it, we pretend to be strangers." is how Christa Wolf begins her book A Model Childhood. Many people from the former GDR have lived through that - a sort of wiping out of their experience. For a while in conversations with West-German friends I felt I had become a sort of honorary "Ossi".
Today this well-known quote from L.P. Hartley also resonates, "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there."
It may be a foreign country but as the year advances and particularly as the autumn approaches I intend to go to that foreign country and revisit some of what I lived through in that time of Holy Disorder.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

The 7,000 up love link challenge or something

Of course it all started with David Ker who is desperate that we all know that he has reached 7,000 comments on his blog and so decided to start a comment-leavers web link-up in the blogosphere.
I got tagged by Friends Meeting place who got tagged by Gentle Wisdom to pass on "link love" by linking to the blogs of 10 of the people who have commented on of Life, Laughter and Liturgy.
Now when I first saw this my heart sank I am rather at the other end of the comment spectrum (I promise to let you know when I reach 100 comments!) and I had to wonder whether I even had 10 people who have blogs leaving comments. I think I might just make it, here goes:
Novice blogger
Upside Down Heaven
On not being a Sausage
Pieced together praise
Called Together
Gustavo Bonato
Five lobes and two fissures
sustainable if able kiwi

Now, everyone needs to know that David Ker has threatened to set the hyenas on us if we break the chain but I don't take that seriously at all. What I like about all this silliness is that it links liberals, evangelicals and others in a little bit of web based fun. I rather like the fact that David, Peter and Tim would as they put it "not necessarily endorse the content on these blogs". Well of course I don't endorse it - these blogs belong to other people.
I should add that I am not allowed to link to Lac19's blog but you can visit a great website he made here.
Anyway just to be really fair about this here are Tim Goodbody's original ten linkers, followed by Peter Kirk's.

Radical Evangelical
Revise Reform
Peter Ould
David Keen
Pluralist speaks
Phil's Treehouse
Jane Stranz

  1. Rahab’s Place
  2. Obscene Beauty
  3. The Road to “Elder” ado
  4. iamhealed.net
  5. Friends’ Meeting House
  6. The Sundry Times
  7. This I do…
  8. New Epistles
  9. Seeking His Face
  10. jon sidnell

World Water Day falls on Refreshment Sunday

This year World Water Day falls on refreshment Sunday - a rather happy coincidence. Refreshment Sunday is also Mothering Sunday in the UK.

So what have you been doing for World Water Day? Post your water liturgies and prayers to Seven Weeks for Water and leave comments there to let otehrs know what you've been doing to mark the day,

Was Jesus a poor manager?

On Upside Down Heaven Hans Uli has been reflecting about whether Jesus was a poor manager:
The recent issue of Neue Wege - Beiträge zu Religion und Sozialismus ... features an interview Ina Praetorius did with Alphonse-Marie Bitulu from Kinshasa, who wrote a book entitled "Jésus, le mauvais gestionnaire" - Jesus, the incapable manager. The title and approach intrigue me. It points to a discrepancy of an ever more managed church and christian or religious service which at the same time often seems to drown in dilettantism and mismanagement. But the myth that good (today meaning results-based) management automatically yields good results grows steadily and threatens to suffocate true vision, creativity and authentic care for each other.
This set me thinking because one of the issues we're trying to tackle in an upcoming Ecumenical Review is trying to get churches which are involved in health care provision to take management more seriously rather than seeing it as a universally bad thing.
The more I think about management the more I think that what we refer to disparagingly as management is actually bad management. Alot of what is referred to as management in the church is often decontextualised quick fix ideas imported from a very different context. Yet context is one of the things that good management and leadership should take seriously.
In a conversation last year with Barbara Oxley who works in training educational leaders in the UK she said something that really struck me - "Leaders have to care about the people they are leading".
Caring should be an area that churches and non-governmental organisations are good at, yet churches and church organisations sometimes suffer from worse leadership and management problems than private companies.
Hans-Uli is right that wedding ourselves to a facile results based, bean-counting management approach can stifle creativity. The failure of some of these so-called management approaches in churches may actually mean that it will be difficult to look at management as a theological issue with enormous potential for the churches. There is also another side to problems with management in churches and that is the very defensive way churches can react to issues of accountability.
The private, public, voluntary and faith-based sectors all need good management. Part of the task of effective, good and caring managers is to lead staff in a way that encourages accountability and creativity and chanels them for the overall good of the organisations.
Anyway reading Hans-Uli was also a wake up call to me to start writing my diploma paper.
It also made me think about the parable of the dishonest manager in Luke's gospel which includes this:
And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

A woman bishop for the newly united church in central Germany

In Wittenberg yesterday the synod of the Evangelical Church in Central Germany elected Ilse Junkermann from Stuttgart as Bishop of the new church, which has come into being from a union between two German Landeskirchen - the Thuringia Lutheran Church and the Church of the Church Province of Saxony. The bishops of the two churches both stood down to allow the new church to have a clearly new leadership.
I'm really glad that they have elected a woman. The Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Oberlausitz Church is also due to elect its new bishop this year. There's a woman on the list there too though she's not a front runner it would seem. The first generation of women bishops in Germany are beginning to retire - Bärbel von Wartenburg-Potter last year and Maria Jepsen in the next couple of years.
Junkermann's election means she will be one of three female bishops in Germany, Margot Kässmann and Maria Jepsen being the other two.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Piecing together the rainbow for World Water Day

Here is the rainbow we pieced together as part of our work on water at KT today. It was fun - for me at least and I think we were all quite surprised at how good the result was - all that chopping up old magazines to get the colours of the rainbow seemed to work well. More about it here - in French of course.
One of the young people brought a print out of the European Parliament resolution in view of the World Water Forum which draws to a close in Istanbul tomorrow and I was surprised at how relatively well-informed many of them were about water issues.
We used water to help us pray and concentrate and also to help us remember a surprising number of Bible texts. We remembered and read parts of the story of the rainbow covenant - getting a little bit fixated on why Noah was 600 years old. We also began by praying Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;

One thing I discovered is there doesn't seem to be a mnemonic to remember the order of the colours in French and of course Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain doesn't quite work, I'll have to think of something.

Water, ripples and Romansch

On Friday morning Natalie Maxson led morning prayers in the ecumenical centre. On the floor in the side chapel was a bowl of water and some stones. She and Mark Taylor taught us a Marty Haugen hymn for Lent.
The liturgy was very simple we were invited to listen three times to the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well and asking her for something to drink. As the story was read very simply, so guitar music was played and we listened to a rain stick. We listened to the story, let it make ripples in our mind and experience.
The side chapel was nearly full which is unusual for morning prayers. We had a group of young people from the Reformed Church in Graubunden visiting us and I interpreted one or two parts of the service into German for them.
In our prayers we prayed for all people suffering from lack of access to water, from flooding, from drought.
As the guitar and water stick played once more, we were invited to drop a small stone into the bowl of water and to literally make ripples as we left to chapel to begin our day.
The young people stayed behing and I learnt that although I'd been invited to give the tour in German to them they were actually representatives of Switzerland's fourth language, Romansch. They were around 16 years old and none of them spoke less than three languages, most seemed to have excellent English as well. Future linguists in the making.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Yes we can - go on strike in Ferney Voltaire

If it were not for our house guests serving as roving reporters we would not have known about strike action in Ferney today where the protesters carefully targetted the cross border F bus and slowed its progress.
Look at how Obama's words have crossed the ocean and become part of strike action outside the town hall.
This is truly a sign that change has come - French strikers using English on their protest banners. I never thought I'd see that.

Keep calm and carry on

Readers of this blog may realise that I am not always a very calm person. So I was interested to see that these t-shirts and posters are proving very popular at the moment. You can read more about it here.
As the French would say "il faut rester Zen", however here of course it would not have a crown on it.
So do you find this poster reassuring or just quaint?

Affirm access to water as a human right

At a side-event to the World Water Forum taking place in Istanbul, Ecumenical Water Network representatives said that the affirmation of the human right to water would allow the international community to move on to a constructive discussion about its implementation and to promote dialogue and research about good practices.

While the interests of business players are thus well represented in international discussions about water issues, it is important that civil society organizations and churches raise awareness of the needs of affected communities, according to the EWN, a network of churches and Christian organizations working on people's access to water around the world. One opportunity to do so is World Water Day on 22 March.

"As World Water Day falls on a Sunday this year, we certainly hope that people will celebrate water through prayer, worship or other activities and raise awareness of our shared responsibility to care for this precious gift and make it accessible to everybody," says Maike Gorsboth, EWN coordinator.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Translating in a time of war - call for blue beret linguists in Iraq in translation

A friend at work gave me a fascinating article from this month's Vie Protestante. It's an interview with Mathieu Guidère about his book Irak in translation: de l'art de perdre une guerre sans connaître la langue de son adversaire.

Guidère has worked both at the French military academy of Saint-Cyr and at the Pentagon looking at the role of translators and interpreters in conflict zones.

He has some interesting things to say about the war in Iraq being one which set out to win hearts and minds and was also one in which translators and interpreters played an important role.

Later in the interview he says that "translating in a time of war is about the art of using words of dialogue, diffusing situations which are filled with tension, using communication in a way which helps conflict resolution."

The interviewer asks outright whether the war might have been won if Bush had been able to use more translators and interpreters and Guidère's reply is very interesting:

"It not so much the quantity of as the quality which was the problem in this war. Taxi drivers or pizza delivery delivery people were recruited so long as they had three words of Arabic. The people recruited were both badly trained and badly managed"

It's not always easy to argue for quality in translation and I'm not sure I want to use potentially winning wars as one of the arguments. He ends the interview by saying that there needs to be a specially trained section of blue beret linguists at the UN. An interesting idea!
Guidère teaches at the University of Geneva's Ecole de Traduction et Interprétation.

Fulata Mbano Moyo on Seven Weeks for Water

It is World Water Day this Sunday - if you are doing something to mark the day then do let the Ecumenical Water Network know about it. At Seven Weeks for Water we're particularly keen to know about any worship ideas or prayers you've written.
This week's meditation is based on Jesus' encounter with the Samaritain woman at the well in John's gospel. It's written by Fulata Mbano-Moyo who works at the WCC and is from Malawi.

Here's an extract:
We can learn from this story that water is life: important for renewal; needed by everyone, regardless of race, sex, age, ability or any other quality; a gift of God that should not be privatized and confined to the powerful so as to deprive the less powerful; and that like the Samaritan woman, each one of us should make sure that we work towards making physical and spiritual water accessible to all.
From Jesus we can learn that we should always dare to demand access to water and that we should engage in dialogue with both those who have accepted their positions of privilege as normal as well as those who accept their deprivation as normal. The Samaritan woman had an encounter with God, she realized that the real owner of water for life is God.

Find out whether there are organizations in your own country that offer just gifts. Some participants of the Ecumenical Water Network like Church World Service (USA) and Christian World Service (New Zealand) offer the possibility of giving such a gift instead of an ordinary present, and you can find others by searching the internet for “Water and sanitation as a gift”.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009


L'espérance concerne demain mais se vit aujourd'hui.
Saint Augustine

Evangile et Liberté and Sebastian Castellion

I bought the latest Evangile et Liberté at the Protestant bookshop yesterday. It has the first of two major pieces by Philippe Vassaux about Sébastian Castellion.
He is seen as an important thinker in the development of humanism and the idea of tolerance and religious pluralism.
"He who, in order to prevent the blood of others being shed, shed his own." Or, "Out of zeal in Christ, we do evil to others -- for Him who taught return of good for evil".
Next month's article will concentrate more on Castellion's protest at the burning at the stake of Michel Servet. In the article I read yesterday Castellion's translation of the Bible into both Latin and everyday French was charted, as was his passionate commitment to teaching.
He referred to his translation of the Bible into French as "for idiots" by which he meant that it could be read by people who had not had the possibility to read or study a great deal.
More about Castellion as the Calvin year advances.

Monday, 16 March 2009

A time for everything

Un temps pour tout is the name of the Protestant bookshop at 47 rue de Clichy. I really don't get there often enough nowI don't come to Paris so often. Anyway today I discovered they have a blog, though not very up to date, they also have a website. Now if only I'd seen that book about "original sin on the couch" I'm sure I'd have bought it.
Meanwhile the Salon du livre is on in Paris and Les Editions Olivétan have a stall for the first time. Tomorrow there's a special event for Andy Buckler's new book about Calvin and Mission.
Interestingly the writer of Ecclesiastes didn't write there is a time for buying books and a time not to buy books ...

Women in red on the solferino footbridge

Red and black seem to have been our colours for going round the tourist sights of Paris. Very anarcho-syndicalist.
I particularly liked the Solferino footbridge and another similar one nearer to the Gare de Lyon. They very cleverly link the banks of the Seine and the higher walkways, intelligent and elegant designs. These few days with family have taught me once again what I ought to really know - my most precious commodity is time. It's also the thing I sometimes waste most.
It's been good to just take our time and be together a bit. It will also be good to sleep in my own bed tonight. And now I get time to go to the Protestant bookshop on my own. A dangerous moment!

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Word of the day "Boustrophédon"

The glossary of architectural terms in Sainte Chapelle had the splendid word boustrophédon which is just too brilliant a word not to have a word of the day. One of the glorious stained glass windows in the chapel tells the biblical story it depicts in the backwards and forwards snaking pattern following an ancient writing pattern. Read more about it in English or French. Interestingly when it was used the forms of the letters going back would also change - making reading quite a challenge.
Meanwhile I should admit that architentural terms are really not my best suit in terms of vocabularly, so I was very thankful for the Sainte Chapelle's glossary.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Fun with family in Paris

So as I'm in Paris here are some photos to bore you all with. the one on the left is the rather wonderful view from the Café Marly toilets at the louvre. We have walked on cobbles and over the wonderful solférino footbridge which is very clever. We've been to Sainte Chapelle and the deportation monument and on the boat. Despite early rain the weather has been kind. We have even managed to drink good cups of tea. We have of course also sampled many eating delights and have chatted and teased one another in the fun desultory over-excited way that our family does. It's good to be with three of my favourite people and to know that Dr B (absolute favourite) will join us later tonight and Eric tomorrow. Now we have to decide where to eat tonight. Must go.

Springtime railway rhymes from the SNCF

Picking up my mum and aunt at the wonderfully romantic Gare du Nord last night I came across small transparent but colourful squares of paper for the 11e Printemps des poètes: en rimes en rires - rhymes and laughter.
The idea is that you place the poems somewhere to brighten up someone's day with the colours and the funny poems printed on them. It's taking poems on the Underground one step further I suppose.
Anyway the SNCF is offering poetry dowloads as part of its cultural programme, after all poetry makes you travel to new places so why not make poetry itself travel? You can download six poems here.
I think the idea is that this is a sort of peaceful fly-posting action. An organised bit of poetic craftivism.
So what poem would you like to leave lying around for others to read - or what poem would you write for others to read on the train?

Tamar and campaigning against violence against women

This is in part a cross post from the Women in Ministries blog.
I keep mentioning the Ecumenical Women's blog as there's a lot of activity at the moment because the UN's commission on the status of women is still meeting in New York, those involved in the ecumenical women's network are posting contributions from workshops and talks that they have been organising as part of the advocacy work they are doing at the commission.
Alison Killeen has written an interesting piece about third wave feminism and how we read the Bible called Bringing Tamar along with me. It reminded me of the first year of our feminist theology group here in Geneva when I led a study of the raped concubine in Judges. How do we deal with Bible texts which are so uncritically violent towards women? I vaguely remember that as I groped towards a feminist hermeneutic of that text which tells of horrific violence - gang rape and dismemberment - I tried to say that although I initially found it difficult for such a text to nourish my faith, I was at least grateful that this story in some of its true terribleness is in the Bible - it would seem that the host's virgin daughter is also given to the gang to rape but we never even hear whether she survives. Much of women's experience - good and bad is similarly just untold.
Today we can use the pieces of the remaining story not to raise an army, as the Levite does with the pieces of his concubine's body, but to raise awareness, bring back to mind, re-member. Rather than accepting or treating this violence as commonplace we can bring these biblical stories out of silence and use them to help women and men tell their stories, and so campaign against violence in its many forms.
It's not been easy for churches to campaign against sexual violence but the Tamar campaign is one excellent attempt. There's a link here to an article by Gerald West and Phumzile Zondi-Mabizela telling how a Bible story became a campaign. Taking Tamar with us may help us tell stories in a way that helps to transform the world and work against domestic violence.

Here are some extracts from Killeen's talk on Tamar:

I am a third-wave feminist. And sometimes, I have no idea what that means.

At the Ecumenical Women Orientation two weeks ago, we worked with feminist theologian Caryn Riswold to elaborate on what it is to be a third-wave feminist in today’s world. Three generations reflected on whether the distinction of “third-wave” is even helpful. They worried about where the next generation will take us. And, they expressed concern over whether feminism itself is dead
We never hear what happens to Tamar after this story. The horror of discovering this rape in the Bible is eclipsed only by the realization that even the author cares not what happened to Tamar after all was said and done. Her life, her name, the “rape of Tamar” – these all serve in the text only as a function to explain why later her brother Absalom, who told her to stay silent, kills her brother Amnon, who raped her. In the story, Tamar is property to be protected or violated. She is a figure whose violation represents not her own personal grief but her family’s public shame; a woman whose grief is but a footnote in the long opus to political power that we find recorded in the Bible.

Discovering the story of Tamar, a text that is out-of-lectionary and therefore out-of-mind, is an experience that can be tragic and which can feel incredibly problematic, especially for the thoughtful Christian feminist reading the Bible. Tamar’s story infuses the rest of the scriptures with a painful twist, a wrench in your gut reminding you that although the Apostle Paul spoke in Galatians about the equality of the Jew and the Greek, the slave and the free, the male and the female—when he mentions it in Corinthians, he conspicuously leaves the part about gender equality out.

Last week Fulata Moyo and Ezra Chitando showed us how one can use the story of Tamar another way. They, along with other colleagues in Southern Africa, use it to teach young people – especially young men – about domestic violence, rape, and the silencing of women in their own contexts. Asking questions about the role of power and gender in the story of Tamar, the young men to assess their own lives for whom has power and how it is utilized. Engaging people in conversation about the roles of Amnon, Tamar, and Absalom in this bible passage encourages them to identify people in their own lives who are Amnon, are Tamar, and are Absalom.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

JC Decaux and media-rich pissoirs

One of the guilty pleasures I don't often own up to is buying the FT as a treat when I'm travelling. Today as well as reading their "future of capitalism" essay (they think capitalism has a future?) and news about the devaluation of the Swiss Franc, I was particularly intrigued to find a fun article about JC Decaux a name you see on almost every street corner in France - and also in Brazil and Berlin and many other places. It's a company that makes and maintains bus stops, public toilets, metro entrances and other street furniture.
Until we moved to France I'd never really known of this company, but we began to wonder who this person was who signed all of the bus stops. Finding work in Poland or Lebannon signed by the same person made me feel quite at home. I suppose I should have realised that it was one of the world leaders in the field of street furniture - but street furniture had never really been much my thing - though I love the German Litfaßsäulen.
Anyway as I read about JC Decaux's falling advertising revenue I took pleasure in this splendid sentence:
"But it is expensive to kit out cities with media-rich pissoirs and graffiti-resistant benches."
I'm sure that's true. You can read more here.

More from Christian Bobin

Some things are almost impossible to translate, sometimes I just don't want want to try because the original is so lovely.
So as I prepare to go to Paris for a long weekend here are a few more lines from Christian Bobin's life of Christ, L'homme qui marche
"Quelque chose avant sa venue le pressent. Quelque chose après sa venue se souvient de lui. La beauté sur la terre est ce quelque chose. La beauté du visible est faite de l'invisible tremblement des atomes déplacés par son corps en marche."

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Jordan Blevins on water as image of renewal, promise and hope on Seven Weeks for Water

You trample on the poor
and force them to give you grain.
Therefore, though you have built stone mansions,
you will not live in them;
though you have planted lush vineyards,
you will not drink their wine.
Amos 5.11
Jordan Blevins from the Eco justice team of the National Council of Churches in the USA has written the meditation on this week's Seven Weeks for Water.
There are also some great resources, including a picture of a virtual water cube and good links to worship and campaigning ideas for World Water Day which is just 10 days away.
Here's part of what Jordan says:
Water is symbolic of our relationship with God, carrying the image of renewal, promise and hope. It is through water that we are baptized into the community of the church ... We need to be careful that our vineyards aren’t watered with the water of those living in poverty around the world. The wine of the body of Christ is meant to be enjoyed by all.

So what are you doing for World Water Day?

Photo: Abraxas3d

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

A dancing, liberating trinity with Monique Bondolfi at feminist theology and cathedral or bazaar ecumenism

I've just got back from a tour de force evening with Monique Bondolfi at our feminist theology group. In our series this year on "Dieu est belle" she gave us a superb overview of her conviction that God as Trinity is essentially God in relationship.
It would be impossible for me to sum up Monique's lucidity in a few lines here and I will post the whole of her paper to the fem theol blog in coming weeks. What excited me about tonight is how things fell into place for me - through small phrases like "God's strength is in God's weakness" or "God accepts otherness"; through Monique talking about the myth of order, unity and perfection as represented in the monotheism of the father figure; through her giving us copies of the journal she edits "Vivre au présent" which is all about networks. Suddenly I realised that this dancing, liberating, organised, spirit-filled, suffering, weak and powerful God was the one I believed in, a God who doesn't have all the answers but remains deeply in relationship and helps me and others through the non - sense.
As I was coming home I realised that this evening's study of the trinity also fitted in with the discussions several of us were having at lunch time about models of ecumenism for the 21st century. Do we want cathedral ecumenism (top down, institution driven) or bazaar ecumenism (networked, organic)? The idea for these two terms actually comes from software development.
So do you want a microsoft or a linux trinity, word or open office ecumenism? Let's open the theological software bazaar.

L'homme qui marche - Christian Bobin's life of Christ

To say that it is a small book would be an understatement. Christian Bobin's L'homme qui marche is just 32 small but beautiful pages long. Looking for poetry last night I picked this poetic prose off my shelves and was once again captivated. How wonderful if there could be someone writing like him in each of the world's languages.
As I read it I realised that it would be fun to read with the young people at KT. I'll see whether I dare do that.
"Ce que l'on sait de lui, on le tient d'un livre. Avec l'oreille un peu plus fine, nous pourrions nous passer de ce livre et recevoir de ses nouvelles en écoutant le chant des particules de sable, soulevées par ses pieds nus. Rien ne se remet de son passage et son passage n'en finit pas."

Monday, 9 March 2009

This morning on the bus - the pleasure of glimpsing other people's reading material

It is one of my secret pleasures to try and work out which language people will be reading things in on the bus. I take pleasure in fishing a book in German out of my bag now and again. The morning rather than the evening bus seems to be more conducive to reading for most folk. I notice other people reading the free paper in someone else's hands or looking with interest at the books other people are diving into with such early morning relish - have I read that, should I get it?
I had a bit of a judgemental moment this morning on the bus - perhaps because I didn't have any of my own reading material with me. A youngish man in his late 20s early 30s started reading a new book. It looked a rather badly self-published book - the design and layout weren't that great. Then I saw that it was what would be called an esoteric book, it was all about the healing powers of crystals and special stones ... and I was sad.
I suppose I was sad because I thought how could I encourage this person to want to read something more meaningful. Here was someone obviously looking for something deeper in life - deeper certainly than my normal bus-journey reading of thrillers and crime fiction. As I watched him flick through the contents pages and begin reading I found myself wishing, hoping, praying perhaps that his search for something deeper in life might get beyond the quick fix of magic crystals to find a life-giving word on some other pages.
Meanwhile the woman next to me was doing her Arabic homework - I dream that if I glance at her work enough perhaps some of the knowledge will rub off on me and by the time I get to work I may know part of the alphabet in Arabic. Quick fix language learning! There was a very elegant young woman who only ever gets standing room on the bus becasue shes gets on at a later stop but always has a paperback with her, today she was reading a Fred Vargas I've not got yet and I was jealous. The woman who often reads a well-thumbed Bible was not on my bus today but there were school children revising for their tests who had their papers open and office-workers reading through reports on the banking collapse in the international English that is not their mother tongue.
Tonight looking at my bookshelf as I decide what to read in bed, I think I shall treat myself to something a bit better than usual. Poetry rather than more pages about crazed serial killers. Really, when I look at the shelves of pointless crime fiction in my house what right do I have to be judgemental about someone else reading about healing stones?

Sunday, 8 March 2009

"No violence, no silence" - What have you been doing for International Women's Day?

The picture is from an International Women's Day demonstration in India in 2008, the day and the week before and after are times to reflect on the reality and possiblities of women's lives.
The global "no violence no silence" initiative is one place to start, or listening to girls and empowering the girl child.
As well as a celebration of women's lives, contribution and commitment, the day also serves as a sobering reminder of what far too many women are suffering and putting up with. The list is long, there's a post about how women in Zimbabwe are bearing the brunt of the crisis there; many agencies remind us of the terrible situation many women in Democratic Republic of Congo; the trafficking of women to feed the seemingly insatiable global sex trade; and of course even in countries with good equality laws women still earn on average 17% less than similarly qualified men.
Anyway happy international women's day, here's to all the positive initiatives it gives rise to.

Congratulations to Andreas Zumach for the Göttinger Peace Prize

Yesterday our friend Andreas Zumach was awarded the Göttinger Friedenspreis - the Göttinger peace prize - for his reporting and campaigning journalism about the wars in former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Andreas is the TAZ correspondent at the UN, does some radio and tv journalism, and has written the book pictured here. He has repeatedly warned against preventative wars over raw materials and also argues for a greater role for the UN given the global challenges.
The Göttinger peace prize was founded by Roland Röhl a scientific journalist who died in 1997.

After the death of God - a conversation between Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt and Abdennour Bidar

The March issue of Philosophie Magazine has a fascinating conversation between the writers Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, who describes himself as an agnostic Christian, and Abdennour Bidar, who promotes the idea of an existentialist Islam (see Un Islam pour notre temps - 2004, or Self Islam - 2006).
Schmitt, who was taught philosophy by Jacques Derrida, whom he describes as "the pope of deconstructionism", opens the conversation by describing how he gradually began to feel exhausted by rationality which didn't respond to his questions. "Today I identify myself as an agnostic Christian. Agnostic because, I don't know whether God exists. I believe so, but this belief does not engender any knowledge. Christian because the gospels are an inexhaustible ethical and spiritual resource for me."
Bidar also speaks about his experience of trying to make the link between the mystical Islamic Sufism he was involved in with the philosophy studies he was doing in Fontenay. He describes how the two schools of thought - rationalist philosophy and the mystical way - "were telescoped in me at an age when one isn't very gifted to make compromises ... I couldn't find my place anywhere and nearly lost myself in that adventure. Only at 32 did this conflict unknot and I was able to tell the story in self Islam."
At one point in the conversation Schmitt says that one of things he appreciates in Bidar's approach is how it keeps critical solidarity with history and heritage, as opposed to the Western philosophical approach which tends only to progress by a tabula rasa, getting rid of the things of the past, killing God and taking his place.
Towards the end of the conversation Schmitt says:
"Why are you and I interested in God, even though it's been the fashion for more than 200 years to do without God, at least for intellectuals? Because we don't want a humanism which loses a sense of the infinite and the immeasurable."

Saturday, 7 March 2009

What message would you leave on God's voice mail?

Khaled Diab in the Guardian reports that God now has a number, but that it's permanently on voicemail. For the next six months, people can call God on a Dutch number.
Dutch Artist Johan Van der Dong said he set up the number to give people an opportunity to pause and contemplate life.
"Like praying, leaving a voicemail message is a way to organize your thoughts," he said. "It's a perfect combination for some contemplation."

So maybe make skyping God part of your spiritual exiercise this Lent? Even if God's voicemails is in Dutch I imagine you can leave a message in any language.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Word of the day "livresse"

Walking around Geneva on my afternoon off I came across a lovely café which is also a bookshop. It sports the splendid name of "livresse" which is a clever play on words between books (livres) and drunkeness (ivresse).
Geneva wine shops seem to specialise in names which play on words "vins sur vins" and "lavinia". On a damp, cold end of winter (I hope) day, the fun of some of the shop names can almost cheer you up.

World Day of Prayer

Today is the World Day of Prayer, probably one of the world's oldest, most wide reaching and inclusive ecumenical initiatives. There's a great interview with ERF minister Bettina Cottin on the background to the Day here.
This year the liturgy has been prepared by an ecumenical group of women from Papua New Guinea.
Find a service near you today, the day's guiding theme throughout the years is "informed prayer, prayerful action".
The English-speaking congregations in Geneva will hold their service to mark the day at the Ecumenical Centre at 12.30.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Women and money and women for positive masculinities

There is lots of posting going on over at the UN Ecumenical Women's blog a the moment. The photo here is a picture of their colourful prayers as they take part in the diverse, in-depth and sometimes difficult debates going on at the UN's Commission on the Status of Women.
There's a good report here on Women and the financial crisis.
There's also an interesting report about a seminar on "building up boys" and developing positive masculinties.

Justice for women in Mexico

For international women's day, Réforme is leading this week with the campaign of Mexican women for justice for the 400 women who have been found murdered over the past 15 years in The Mexican-Texas border town of Ciudad Juarez, a further 4,000 women are reported missing. Nakaworari Leál Ortíz pictured here has set up an association which works with the families of the victims, most of whom live in situations of extreme poverty. The association recieves free legal aid from lawyers in Mexico City and the Ford Foundation also supports their work.
however also says that the work has to continue until age old problems of men seeing women only as sexual objects are overcome. "Pour Nakaworari, rien ne sera résolu tant que la femme mexicaine ne sera pas traitée à égalité de l’homme. « Quand les garçons parlent entre eux des filles, ils les voient uniquement comme des objets sexuels »"
The work of the association and its campaign for justice is supported by ACAT Christian Action Against Torture.
What campaign, which people are you supporting for international women's day?

Interview with Radio Vatican about Seven Weeks for Water

Radio Vatican interviewed me last week on the Seven Weeks for Water initiative and you can find a podcast of the interview here. (click on that almost indistinct little loud speaker)
Ah yes and I should have mentioned that the interview is in French, interviews in German, Spanish and English are fielded by Maike Gorsboth the Ecumenical Water Network's coordinator.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Eat a fairtrade banana

It's fairtrade fortnight so go bananas and become part of a world record attempt.

Be part of the world’s biggest Fairtrade banana-eating record attempt. Join in by eating a Fairtrade banana anytime between noon on Friday 6 March and noon on Saturday 7 March.

Sign up here.

Fairtrade minimum prices
are calculated to at least cover average local costs of production - this price can be over double what producers would normally receive.

Jesus donuts to be eaten on atheist bus?

It is not yet April 1st but there really are some strange stories out there. Like this one about Evangelical Christians in Spain using donuts to get people to try out Jesus. Hmm ... one of my friends has suggested this could be a special delicacy to be eaten only on an atheist bus. Sometimes fact is stranger than fiction.
I remember how strange I found it when I arrived in northern France and someone served me sausage called Jésus cru and Jésus cuit - cooked or uncooked Jesus, but I think it tastes better when it's just called sausage.
"El DONUT DE LA FE Esta última campaña que ha alcanzado a los medios de comunicación (en este caso el diario ABC) es, como hemos dicho, la que protagoniza un donut, junto a otros tentadores alimentos, y se debe a la propaganda evangelística que está realizando la iglesia evangélica Cuerpo de Crist"
I think that must be the first time that I have seen the words donut and Body of Christ in the same paragraph. Perhaps I should get out more. And just for the record yes I do normally write doughnuts of course, not donuts.
Meanwhile if you're looking for something sweet you could order some alfajores here.

Don't flush and forget - read Steve de Gruchy on sewage as a theological issue

Steve de Gruchy from South Africa has written this week's reflection on Seven Weeks for Water. In it he says:
Indeed the Jordan River perspective holds together economics and ecology, recognizing that “we all live downstream”. It is a reminder that freedom is worth nothing for the poor if we cannot deal with sewage.

Read the whole of his reflection here and don't forget to leave a comment.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Stuffed or starved?

This is the map of how the world eats ... pretty shocking and quite guilt-inducing for the fat person I am.
Every year the Protestant and Roman Catholic churches in Switzerland launch an ecumenical Lenten campaign Pain pour le prochain and Action de Carême ~ Brot für Alle and Fastenopfer. The campaigns are as much about raising awareness as about raising money. They provide wonderful liturgical resources in French and German and other information in Spanish, Italian and English. This year's campaign is a Healthy Climate to Guarantee Daily Bread. Cleverly linking climate change and issues around malnutrition and the right to food.

Some good news from Zimbabwe - Jestina Mukoko released

And not before time. Read more here.
“I am free now and I must concentrate on my health,” said Mukoko who looks emaciated and unwell. “The time will come for me to comment to the media. I am still being attended to by the doctors and I might be in here for some weeks to come.”

There is still a long, long way to go in Zimbabwe. Heads of denominations said this among other things in a public statement in recent days.

We wish to remind the new Government that it is taking office at a very special time and under very special circumstances in our history. The special circumstances include a clearly defined and limited lifespan of the Government during which it must present to the nation some specific deliverables which include the following:
· facilitating the development and promulgation of a people-driven national constitution as afoundation for democratic governance;. opening up space for people's democratic participation, freedom ofexpression and personalfreedoms;· enacting legislation and mechanisms for people's free participation in the national elections . .. that will mark the end of the life of the current all-inclusive Government;· re-vamping the national economy in order to create jobs, reduce hunger, poverty, disease and restoring public and social services, particularly those related to health and education; · Addressing all outstanding issues that include the release of persons detained on politicalgrounds, fair distribution of land and equitable distribution of relief and aid to those who need it.

In addition, political party leaders should work to ensure that the unity they have achieved at their level cascades down to their supporters. The resurgence of politically-motivated acts of violence

Eggs, ashes and water

Ruth Burgess and Chris Polhill wrote and edited Eggs and Ashes, a book of Lenten prayers, liturgies and meditations by Wild Goose publications.

I was pleased to discover that week two in the Lenten discipline they propose focuses on Water - week one was transport. You can read a pdf extract of the book here.

Here's an extract from a prayer by Yvonne Morland in the book entitled Living Water:

We are connected in creation
by water which gives us life
Let our marks be gentle
Let us respect the sacredness of water
which moves between us
as ablessing from the hand of God

Monday, 2 March 2009

Are you going to go bananas?

Are you going to take part in the world wide record attempt for eating fair trade bananas on Friday March 6?
You can sign up here.
The photo shows staff at the United Reformed Church head office preparing for the day.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Great Britain and Ireland will Go Bananas! from noon on Friday 6 March to noon Saturday 7 March by eating one Fairtrade banana each as part of a world record attempt. They’ll all be trying to break the world record for the greatest number of people eating a Fairtrade banana in a 24-hour period. More than 200,000 people are already signed up to take part a week before the event and the number is growing daily on the Fairtrade Foundation website, where the tally is being recorded.

In Switzerland getting Max Havelaar fair trade bananas is fairly straightforward. In France it's not so easy but I think I had better sig up for this world record attempt.

Tears and joy for worship on water

When preparing for Monday morning prayers in the ecumenical centre the major constraint is time. We have just thirty minutes - and of course it is Monday morning too so it's sometimes a little difficult to really start on time. If we want everyone to be back in their offices by 9.00 then 20 minute sermons tend not to work ...

Today we based prayers on thirsting, searching and longing for water, and celebrating the gift of water. Yes ok I admit it was also an unashamed attempt to plug Seven Weeks for Water with colleagues in the house.

After words of welcome we began by listening to a rain stick. (I've since discovered that you can learn how to make your own by going here or here.) The noise it makes is wonderful: gentle and yet powerful; promising too somehow.

The choir led the singing beautifully, even managing to get the Goudimel version of Psalm 42 to sound like a light dance and not the dirge that sometimes comes out when "Comme un cerf altéré brame" is sung by congregations.

In my three minute sermon I focused on tears - as something that makes us truly human, signs and symbols of both grief and joy. Tears are an essential part of a spirituality of resistance, an expression of our deep emotions, a way perhaps too of becoming streams of living waters for others.
"Mon seul pain ce sont mes larmes" says the French of Psalm 42, tears have been my food, the bread that feeds our thirst for God and for justice.

As well as a Geneva Psalm we sang the Rivers of Babylon and O Healing River and we prayed, for those suffering from cholera, for a former colleague dying of cancer, for all of us as we wipe away tears and seek to care for God's beautiful planet,

You can find the outline here.

And remember water is about justice, justice rolling like a healing stream.

Christian Aid's journey to Jerusalem

For Lent Christian Aid is putting daily meditations online encouraging readers to travel to Jerusalem. There is a prayer section where you can add your own prayers and develop a sense of community.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Identity, ecumenism, guilt and anger

I felt guilty at the end of last week for being unthinkingly anti-Cathlolic in something I said. It's so easy in things we say to make ignorant generalisations - oh typical Catholics, just like the Evangelicals, that's the Anglicans for you ...
This morning's BBC Radio 4 Sunday Programme had an interesting report on the crisis of training people for the priesthood in France. Apparently the French Catholic Church now has more married deacons than other European countries - priests will typically be ordained deacon first but be priested after a year. Meanwhile, lifelong deacons will not be priested and cannot celebrate the mass but make a big contribution to keeping local church life ticking over and tend to be married. The report also highlighted the huge role women play in keeping church life going.
This morning was our local Protestant Church's AGM. For reasons of déontologie pastorale I have not attended the AGM since I left as the minister. Dr B did however attend - he likes these sorts of things, a good committee person. Today's session sounds as if it was the usual good- in-part review of the past year, with some unfortunate Clochemerle incidents of course. One part of the minister's report deeply saddened me. Apparently our local Roman Catholic Bishop, Monseigneur Bagnard, has informed all of the Catholic clergy working in the Pays de Gex that Protestants can no longer be Godparents at baptisms in in the Roman Catholic Church. He has also refused use of Catholic churches for Protestant funerals which breaks with tradition of more than 30 years.
This may not seem like a big deal but you need to understand that there are three Protestant "temple" in the Pays de Gex and more than 30 Catholic churches. Funerals tend to be village affairs, people will be buried in the cemetries in their villages which are often close to the Roman Catholic churches. I have often taken funerals together with Catholic colleagues in the village churches in this area. It should be added that the upkeep for most of the Catholic churches is paid by the State in one form or another whereas Protestant churches are usually paid for by their members.
So at times of stress when families are grieving they can choose to have a Catholic mass in the local village church possibly against the wishes of the dead person, or to travel long distances to and from the Protestant temple and back, or possibly simply to have a graveside ceremony - not easy either in the rain and snow, nor in the beating sun we often get around here.
I imagine that the bishop's ruling on this is almost certainly only verbal, though I shall try and do a bit of research. It would seem also to only apply to the Pays de Gex which is almost certainly the most culturally diverse and most heavily Protestant part of the diocese. (This just means that Protestants are a slightly larger small minority here than elsewhere!)
It would be easy to react to this by trying to be as exclusive as possible oneself, in many ways radical openness is the only way through this. Establishing clarity about it is hard work and puts the minority in the position of having to ask for favours. What is interesting is that in the neighbouring diocese of Savoy the situation is quite different.
I wonder now what this does to local ecumenical relations ...