Thursday, 30 April 2009

Remembered Bible at morning prayer

At morning prayer today Manoj Kurian invited us to share rememberings of stories of the risen Christ.
The first image that came to my mind was grilled fish and how it's not at all really one of my favourite breakfast foods and yet this is what Jesus cooks for the disciples in one of the stories of the resurrection! We brought our mundane and personal questions to the stories of the resurrection, our enjoyment of gardens or focus on a particular detail. Not just fish but also bread was broken as the scales fell from our eyes and our remembering of the Risen One began to take on form and meaning. We wove our own stories into the stories of Christ's resurrection appearances, we remembered the women who human history and the church have been so keen to forget.

Then I realised that actually the resurrection story I still go back to has no appearance by the Risen One. Just the empty tomb, fear and silence. That silent emptiness speaks to me of resurrection and is also the text I chose to preach on at my father's and Alain Blancy's funerals.

At the end of the day I give thanks for those gentle early morning rememberings as I watched the beauty of the light shining through the stained glass and the wonderful wooden cladding cracked as it expanded in the morning light.

Transformed by words and light

This building once housed the communist-led local government in Erfurt in the former GDR. Yesterday it was transformed by words and light in a celebration of how powerful words and candlelight helped to produce a peaceful revolution.
I love that it is like a giant Wordle.
More pictures and words here.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Visiting the past and celebrating Holy Disorder

Dr B is on a tour around the past and the present in central Germany this week. He is in Erfurt today but yesterday visited Greppin where we lived for six months in 1990. He's been posting photos and thoughts to the Holy Disorder blog. It was quite a shock just now to see pictures of where we used to live and to be taken back to thinking about the people I lived and worked alongside in the dying days of the GDR.
Anyway there is a post here about today's launch of the Holy Disorder campaign to remember the 20th anniversary of the peaceful revolution but also to underline the need for Christians to be involved in politics today. You can also read about the "light sculpture" that's been commissioned to represent the texts of the Ecumenical Assembly.

Word of the day: Aha-Erlebnis

It is official, I have become a "poseure" (yes I do inist on the final "e" please).
Now I should explain that Ferney Voltaire does not really have the equivalent of Aix en Provence's Les deux Garçons or Paris' Les deux Magots, so philosophizing is reserved for my morning bus ride. On days when I don't have a book I often try to read the titles of what my fellow travellers are reading. This week I've been feeling a bit of a fraud, wandering around carrying a book which has "Becoming Divine" in large letters on the cover. Regular readers of this blog will know that my usual reading matter tends to be the latest detective fiction.
Today I nearly missed my stop because I had what the Germans refer to as an "Aha Erlebnis". Something Grace Jantzen wrote really struck a chord with me and moved me. I suppose I suddenly realised that it is absolutely ok to think theological thoughts in my crazy, imaginative, feminist, francophone-anglophone, intuitive way ... I arrived at work feeling good about life, about thinking, about ways forward. Perhaps this really is what is referred to as one of the consolations of philosophy!
I realise that once or twice before I have experienced something similar while reading philosophy. I was still rather under the influence of Walter Benjamin when I first really met and impressed Dr B, and I remember having a rather minor epiphany reading a page of Adorno
many moons ago on an East German railway station.
Anyway I'm not sure that what I am currently reading will change my life but anything that can both nearly make me miss my bus stop and lift my mood must have some power to it. It also made me want to read more and believe I would continue to understand. Here's a small taste of some of what la pasteure poseure was reading - but perhaps the Aha-Erlebnis only came as a result of my longing for café society!
"... if ... the aim of philosophy of religion is to enable becoming divine, becoming our sacred sexuate selves in relation to the earth and to one another, then mathematics and rigorous applications of scientific epistemology are less likely to be helpful than are psychoanalytic theory, imaginative possibilities of human becoming drawn from literature and the arts, and careful social and political analysis."

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

A spirituality for combat, of hope and of communion

God give me the serenity to accept things which cannot be changed; Give me the courage to change things which must be changed; And the wisdom to distinguish one from the other.

As we reflected at work on how to prioritise and also how to communicate our work; how to choose the one right thing, we read these three quotes and they spoke deeply to me today:

A spirituality for combat
"All liberation movements are prone to collective self-justification and self-righteousness, and are likely to en in seeing themselves as the Messiah or Saviour; the self-idolatry becomes the source of a new oppression ... But we should find a spirituality which can keep people in the power struggle without their turning corrupt and oppressor. Here the gospel of forgiveness or jusitification by faith has great relevance to collective liberation movements, in moulding their spirituality for struggle."
M.M. Thomas, in Religion and the Revolt of the Oppressed.

A spirituality of hope
"At Uppsala the mood was one of Exodus, going out to change the structures of society and the perspectives of races. Now we find ourselves in teh wilderness. A pilgrim people in conflict and penury, we have discovered a need for spirituality, a spirituality of penitence and hope." Phillip Potter in his closing address at the WCC Nairobi Assembly, 1975, Breaking Barriers, p.208.

A spirituality of communion
"The process of a book's birth reminds the author of Paul's insight that we are but members of one body and as such are indebted to other members." Walter Altmann, at the end of the preface of his Luther and Liberation.

Eating together to share stories and set up signs

Yesterday I was intrigued to read a post on Deirdre Good's splendid blog On not being a sausage which just read mmmm... if you clicked on the link you went here. Here's a taster of what you find:

“With any decent form of teaching,” says Good, a professor of New Testament at the General Theological Seminary, “you’ve got to show a form of hospitality.”
Cooking dinner for your class (and holding class in your house) may sound extreme, but Good was simply putting two and two together: she enjoys cooking, and many of her evening students would be coming from out of town needing dinner.
In that first class, one student looked down at his plate and quietly said to Good, “this is the best first seminar I’ve ever had.”

As a result I shared some thoughts about food and fellowship on Women in Ministries yesterday. Then today at work in a staff meeting Hielke Wolters encouraged us to think of different methodologies for our work, mentioning how as part of a fairtrade campaign young people had been encouraged to learn how to make chocolate; doing and tasting justice rather than reading and writing about it.
Later in small group work we discussed possible new methodologies for work on inter-religious dialogue. One of our ideas had to do with encouraging story-telling and then someone said, "Ah but the best stories are always told when you're having a meal".
And I remembered the wonderful inter-religious cous-cous we organised in the Pays de Gex just after I arrived in the pastorate, the women I met and talked with, the inspirational young couple who spent two years getting the different religious communities to agree to a day when they would all meet. The original plan had been for a prayer for peace together, but that didn't work out and the idea for the meal was born instead. That eating, talking and story-telling was our prayer for peace and had a more lasting impression than if we had only met to pray together.
Of course in the postmodern age this is just another story that I'm throwing down, but I realised today that there is a taste to story-telling, to learning and taking time to be with one another. It's the flavour of humanity learning in small, humble, significant and insignificant ways to live, laugh and share together. So perhaps the simple sign of hope humanity needs is a table spread in the face of cynicism, where others are awaited as potential friends from whom new things can be learned, with whom new memories can be made.

Luce Irigaray and the potential to become divine

"Love of God ... shows the way. God forces us to do nothing except become. The only task, the only obligation laid upon us is: to become divine men and women, to become perfectly, to refuse to allow parts of ourselves to shrivel and die that have the potential for growth and fulfilment."

Luce Irigaray, Sexes and Genealogies

"According to Irigaray the wisdom that women and men in the postmodern world most require is the wisdom of becoming divine, without which we 'shrivel and die'."
Grace Jantzen, Becoming Divine.

Praying to change the world

Dr B has written from Leipzig about the Monday evening prayers which helped trigger the peaceful revolution in the GDR and which still continue today.
I found it very moving to think of the small group of people meeting week in, week out. That this small act of prayerful resistance becomes the act that inspires others across the land to do the same and sets the tone for the peaceful revolution.
Speaks to me of the discipline of piety having transformative power.
(We're still having a few problems with the comments function on the Holy Disorder blog so this post is my comment!)

Monday, 27 April 2009

Can death overcome death?

This morning Father Daniel Buda led our prayers in the chapel and we began by lighting candles and passing the light of Christ's resurrection from one to another in this symbolic way.
There were powerful prayers and songs as we contined to affirm Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!
There are several lines in the liturgy which say:
trampling down death by death …Christ has destroyed death by death.
On the bus in the morning I'd begun reading Becoming Divine by Grace Jantzen and was as I walked into the chapel trying to get my head around her idea of natality rather than mortality. I suppose it's not really surprising given those circumstances that I found the idea of death triumphing over death or death destroying death a discontinuity.
For me it is Christ's love, Christ's giving, Christ's following and faithfulness that triumph over death. If I had not heard and read the words the order of service this morning I'm not sure I would have so quickly understood what it is Grace Jantzen is driving at in her development of a feminist philosophy of religion.
Life, love and hope tramples down death but then I suppose my mystical meta-narrative would discern and fashion things in such a way.
Anyway despite these thoughts triggered by stray words in the liturgy I still felt connected rather than disconnected through worship and prayer, the message of the resurrection held things together for me.

Holy disorder journeys to the past

Dr B has begun posting on Holy Disorder about his journey to the past:
in 1989, it was the followers of the Reformer Luther who led the (peaceful) revolution, and the followers of Marx who were overthrown. This blog is to remember the events of 1989 and how they are being remembered ...

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Avoid the supermarket queues by going to church

Today is Sunday and I didn't go to church. I also did something I almost never do on a Sunday, I went to the supermarket. One of the things I love about living in France is that we do not yet have a 24/7 culture. The week still has rhythm and downtime. There are though a few shops and markets open on Sunday morning, and a special law allowing for full Sunday opening in December.
Today I wanted to buy some flowers for a friend I was going to visit in her new flat. Rather than paying more for the flowers at the florists I went to the supermarket. Mistake.
I was shocked at how many people were there, at how the fresh produce section looked as if the vultures had descended on it. And I was sick about the sheer waste of time of it all. If I am going to have to queue 15 minutes for the privilege of paying for my seven items I rather feel as if the supermarket should be paying me for my time. Upstanding middle-class citizen that I am, pointless hanging around in one of the forefronts of capitalism can quickly turn me into an anarcho-syndicalist. My own fault for making the wrong choice I suppose.
However I also wondered about how this hanging around encourages communion in a weird sort of way. There is an odd sort of human solidarity in the ghastly pointlessness of the supermarket queue. None of us can quite believe that we were so stupid as to all come to the same place at the same time and create this nonsense.
I also had idle thoughts about trying to talk to the people about why they were there and what they were doing with their day. I wondered about how to do that in a way that would offer them grace, respite, gentleness and humour. What does the gospel have to offer in a consumer society, how to speak to people in the right tone, that shows engagement and interest in their lives and truly offers them love? I've not yet got a copy of bishop Stephen Cottrell's book Do Nothing to Change your Life but my thoughts meandered a bit in that sort of direction - I love his Do nothing Christmas. But how do you enter into conversation - do you hand out egg timers as a way to encourage people to take time out and recognise that they are so much more than what
they buy or do?
So I may not have gone to church today but perhaps my supermarket frustration encouraged me to reflect more deeply than I often do on what the core of my faith is, and how I might begin to communicate that to the Sunday morning shopping congregations.

Picture by the wonderful ASBO Jesus, a tribute to the brilliant supermarket checkout staff whose good natured professionalism and banter shone through today's interminable queue.

Morning service in remembrance of Stanley Spencer

The Resurrection, Cookham, 1924-7, oil on canvas, by Stanley Spencer, Tate Gallery
It's difficult to get a real impression of the power, whimsy, humour and beauty of this painting in this small reproduction. I'm always sad if it is on loan when I go to the Tate Gallery in London. Like almost all of Spencer's work it has a wonderful naive magic realism and is completely rooted in his native village of Cookham.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Spencer's death and you can listen again to the service from Holy Trinity Church (which is depicted in the painting). Spencer's religious paintings often depict Christ incarnate in Cookham, carrying his cross through the village street, preaching the beatitudes next to the Thames.
I hope one day to visit Sandham Memorial Chapel and see the extraordinary murals of the resurrection Spencer painted there. They show the troops from the first world war rising up out of the trenches from underneath rows and rows of white crosses. I do not understand resurrection or rising in glory in such graphic physical terms, yet Spencer's earthy contextual pictures of the resurrection speak to me, making me smile with understanding of I am not sure quite what.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

New blogs on the ecumenical block etc.

This week I discovered that Maryann Philbrook, who works with WSCF as a communications intern, is also blogging from the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva. She wrote an interesting appreciation of an international ecumenical meeting this week. I also very much liked this post on ecumenical learning. It made we realise that we take so much for granted in terms of what we know or think we know about each other's churches and spirituality. It sounds like a really good exercise.
And Dr B who is off to Germany tomorrow has allowed himself to be tempted into a joint blogging venture with me. It's called "Holy Disorder" and througout this year we'll try to post thoughts, stories and reminiscences about the peaceful revolution in East Germany. Some things will be in German others in English. We'll see how it goes but particularly as the Summer and Autumn advance I hope to post parts of my diary from the time and translate parts of a radio script I wrote and read in diary format. Anyway despite being a journalist Dr B doesn't really reckon to be a blogger, so this is really to encourage him to try this form of writing too!

Women as religious leaders in Japan

Thre is a really interesting ENI article on how women played a key leadership role in Japan's religions in the medieaval period.
I've posted more about it to the Women in Ministries blog.

But here's a taster:
"Networking with these women predecessors from the past in their imaginations might empower today's women leaders in their resistance against familial, social, religious, and political misogyny." said Nawata Ward.
"Also, Christian women leaders might carefully find some enriching resources in Japan's Buddhist and Shinto cultural traditions while being critical in assessing what it means to be Christian leaders in a predominantly non-Christian environment," she added.
In writing the book, she became aware that there had been many women leaders who were part of earlier mission movements who created their own ministries.
Nawata Ward added, "I would like to have a network of scholars, researchers and leaders from the ecumenical Church who might be interested in resurrecting these women leaders' stories from Goa, Macao, Manila, China, Vietnam, Brazil, Ethiopia, England, Canada, and perhaps in other places that I have not even imagined during the early modern period and beyond."

Friday, 24 April 2009

What do I really want to ... - a bucket Friday five from Revgalpals

So as we go along we learn - I had no idea what a bucket list was until today but, according to today's Revgalpals Friday five, apparently it's a "before you kick the bucket" list. Hmm - the last two Friday fives have been easier for me than this one ... I think it will take me a while to get around to getting this one sorted.
I'm not sure I want to "achieve" so much as to "be" - interested, accepted, respected... anyway here goes:
1. I want to go on learning how to be happy being me - probably my biggest challenge. Here I am living in a lovely part of the world, doing work I enjoy, sharing my life with a man I love who is funny, talkative, deeply intelligent and knows how to listen and also loves me. Walking to the bus this morning I was thinking about just this. The gentle joy of satisfaction, being content and learning to celebrate it. If I manage to do this it will be my greatest achievement but I hope I will still be learning it right up until I die.
2. In some small way I hope I will have borne witness and been true, and I hope that will mean I will have spent time outside my comfort zone.
3. I want to write the kind of satisfying book that I myself love to read, but I'm fairly sure I don't have the discipline or really the inspiration. I think I'll just have to content myself with reading more.
4. I hope I will have had good relationships.
5. I hope I will have had fun helping people to have memorable days, making memories, liturgies and meaning.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Listen to Dr B talking about ENI

You can listen to a podcast with Dr B talking about the ENI news agency here.

Resistance - pointless or purposeful?

A few months ago someone said to me "resistance is pointless". I think it was their way of saying we all just needed to submit to the inexorable march of change and that there is no point even crying out against injustice.
I thought about this conversation yesterday when I came across this book in the WCC library and realised that whatever else I believe about resistance I do not believe it is pointless. You can find details of the book here and read the contents here.
Thinking about it a little more I realised that I am also not very good at resistance, it's easier to be liked, to get on with one's little life, to play self-preservational politics or even the politics that destroy others. It's also easier to get lost sometimes in the red heat of moral outrage and lose the energy for the long tough struggle.
I suppose somehow for me resistance is about trying to hold fast to some kind of moral compass - often failing but trying to start over doing it again, calling myself, society and the systems and organisations I am part of into question.
Yesterday's quote from Bonhoeffer opens a chapter in this book on "Poisonous Inequality". The book begins with why and how to resist, looking at the call of the Bible to resist and the life of prayer as offering the strength to resist.
Resistance is a complex and multi-faceted term. Interestingly managers are taught to recognise and "deal" with resistance. (As I write that the image of olive trees and bulldozers in Palestine comes to mind.) In management terms resistance is often seen as a negative thing. If we cannot reform we can resist, says the introduction tho the book. Within myself I recognise both positive and negative forces of resistance. Resistance that wants to hold on to my own power, privilege and comfort; resistance that tries to do what is right, hold on to what is good, point to the values of hope integrity and the future. I'd like to kid myself that I'm more involved in positive rather than negative resistance but as they say life is lived forwards and understood backwards. Resistance and its importance is often only fully understood afterwards, years or decades afterwards.
Résister, as I have written before several times, is a key element of my assumed French Protestant identity.
So who is willing to plant and protect real and metaphorical olive trees, to protect them and to say that they have always had a right to grow?

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Christianity for the weak or for the strong?

Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its apologia for the weak … Christianity is rather doing too little in showing these points than too much. Christianity has adjusted itself much too easily to the worship of power. It should give much more offence, more shock to the world, than it is doing now. Christianity should … take a much more definite stand for the weak than to consider the potential moral right of the strong

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

From Volume 13 of the Collected Works London 1933-35, edited Keith Clements and translated Isabel Best

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Have you lost the plot or have you got your nose in a book

It is a well-known fact in our household that my husband is only really interested in talking with me if I start reading a book. Suddenly the computer screen no longer holds sway over him, he loses the plot of his online research and wants to start a conversation. To beome fascinating and alluring I need to put my nose in a book.
I however am reading. It's not easy to lose yourself in someone else's narrative if you are being interrupted. I become a parody of a distant, uninterested spouse. What is it about seeing someone reading that makes you want to interrupt them? (I have asimilar tendancy to remove teh newspaper from him if we go out for morning coffee.)
For the reader the only solution is to choose a book which bears such a stop-start approach to conversation and marital communication. Unfortunately such reading matter tends also to have little or no plot to lose and certainly no narrative. Michel Tournier's Le pied de la lettre is a case in point. But it is satisfying none the less, a splendid selection of words and their defintions gleaned from French dictionaries or the author's imagination.
So what are you reading at the moment and who or what is interrupting you? Do let me know, I'm desperate for ideas of which book to get lost in next. If I don't have something to read I might just lose the plot.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Is overcoming fear, anxiety and despair overcoming doubt?

This morning in the chapel some of the young interns led worship. We listened to the reading from John's gospel about the risen Christ appearing to the disciples on the other side of the doors locked because of their fear.
Meanwhile at the front of the chapel each held a large piece of paper with a word on it - despair, depression, fear ... As the reading progressed one person gradually moved among all of the others tearing up the fears, feeding each bread and giving them bread to share with others. It was a powerful and simple message, overcome fear to overcome doubt.
Meanwhile Maggi Dawn has been writing passionately about doubt here.

Quote of the Day

"One must be fond of people and trust them if one is not to make a mess of life." E.M Forster

This quote comes from the essay Forster wrote in support of humanism called "What I beleive".

Bertrand Russell wrote an essay with the same title to go alongside it from which this comes:

"The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge".

Today these words about trust, love and humanity spoke to and guided my faith and hope. Not sure what Richard Dawkins would say about that., but hey.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

The circus as a management ideal and tool for social change

I have to admit I have not been faithful to my blog but am busy blogging elsewhere on a blog noone else can read - yes even more free-fall than my jottings here! It's my way of trying to get over writer's block and start the paper I need to get done for my course with the Craighead Institute.
One of the ideas I'm interested in for the paper is "the three-ringed circus". Just by googling I've discovered that the term is used used in all sorts of ways in management and business, mainly to mean the best of all possible solutions: to your IT problems, to inspiring your fundraising team or improving your (macho) mastery of the strategic environment. Sometimes though the term seems to be used as an image of chaos, a space that is potentially creative but not easy to control.
While we were learning about healthy and sick organisations one of the things we were encouraged to understand is that no organisation is ever completely healthy or completely sick. Even when things are going really, really well the image is the three-ringed circus and not a perfectly ticking Swiss clock! If your organisation is generally healthy it will not be possible to control and keep tabs on everything all the time.
Anyway one of the interesting things about the circus that I have discovered in recent months is that it is also something that interests some theologians. On Ben Myers Faith and Theology blog he has this great quote from William Stringfellow on the theological significance of the circus: “In the circus, humans are represented as freed from consignment to death. There one person walks on a wire fifty feet above the ground … another hangs in the air by the heels, one upholds twelve in a human pyramid, another is shot from a cannon. The circus performer is the image of the eschatological person – emancipated from frailty and inhibition, exhilarant, transcendent over death – neither confined nor conformed by the fear of death any more…. So the circus, in its open ridicule of death … shows the rest of us that the only enemy in life is death and that this enemy confronts everyone, whatever the circumstances, all the time…. The service the circus does – more so, I regret to say, than the churches do – is to portray openly, dramatically, and humanly that death in the midst of life. The circus is eschatological parable and social parody: it signals a transcendence of the power of death, which exposes this world as it truly is while it pioneers the Kingdom” (A Simplicity of Faith, pp. 89-91).

Meanwhile there's a video interview here with Shane Claiborne who founded the Simple Way community in it he says: "you can get together and talk theology but if you can't juggle together what good is it."

Then earlier today something really strange happened as I started to write about the circus I had the radio on in the background and heard a short programme from South Africa introduced by Midge Ure about the Zip Zap school of circus arts for social change. It really helped me have new thoughts about what I want to write about - how about the role of worship as circus? I love the image of circus arts for transformation as well. Perhaps I shall have to give my paper the title learning the circus arts for a management of transformation!
Anyway while I think about all of that here's more from the Radio 4 blurb:

Midge Ure travels to Cape Town in South Africa to visit Zip Zap School of Circus Arts for Social Change. Midge is expecting the big top, bright lights and clowns in comedy big shoes and red noses, but this is something entirely different.
Founded in 1992 by Laurence and Brent van Rensburg, the vision for the Zip Zap circus school was to teach circus skills to South African children from all walks of life - from Cape Town's wealthy middle class elite to children born in the townships. Boys, girls, wealthy, homeless, extroverted, introverted, aged eight to 18, all have their places and responsibilities at Zip Zap, which attempts to embody Mandela's vision of the Rainbow Nation.
Midge meets Zip Zap's founders in Cape Town, and joins Shannon and Neville, two trainers from Zip Zap who travel to Khayelitsha township once a week to run the circus outreach programme there for kids born with HIV.
Shannon and Neville seem to embody what Zip Zap is all about. The former is a white American from Minneapolis who went over to train with Zip Zap and the latter is a black South African from Khayelitsha township - they got together at Zip Zap.
At the Khayelitsha outreach programme, there is no big top or paying audiences, just 25 children aged between eight and 13 who were all born with HIV. They practise circus skills in the street, including juggling, unicycle and throwing hoops. Midge is initially a little sceptical about how teaching circus skills to kids born with HIV can improve their lives. He hears how they have been ostracised by their own communities and how the circus workshops attempt to enable these children to develop their physical strength and abilities, while gaining self-confidence.
Midge says, 'I get it now. It's not about building up wonderful performers, it's about integration, it's about self-esteem. The circus works - it gives all these kids a focus, it gives them something to do, something to learn. But most importantly it gives them a little bit of hope.'

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Translating and poetry

A former colleague had on her door the phrase "Übersetzen ist wie dichten aber schwerer" - Translating is like writing poetry but harder.
I've been reading a review of new translations of the Greek poet C.P. Cavafy's Collected Poems and The Unfinished Poems.
The review is written by James Longenbach - himself also a poet. He ends by saying "Mendelsohn’s Cavafy is itself a work of art". This reminded me of the wonderful chapter on reading in translation in Alberto Manguel's glorious book A History of Reading. In it Manguel shows (in English) how a translation of a French poem by Rilke is in many ways greater poetry than the original.
Longenbach does not make quite the same claim for Daniel Mendelsohn's translation of Cavafy, though the review is certianly very positive. I was particulary intertested in the extract below, where Longenbach reflects on the influence of English on Cavafy's Greek poetry as well as the different registers between Latinate and Germanic language

Mendelsohn makes me wonder if it wasn’t the deliciously mongrel nature of English, which Cavafy spoke and wrote perfectly, that first provoked him to forge his own hybridized idiom. The fact that the few poems Cavafy wrote in English contain phrases like “penetrating eye” and “transcendent star” (the Latinate word wedged against the Germanic) suggests that the poet’s ear for English was at least as acute as his translator’s.

In recent years as I have begun to preach more in English again I've noticed how much French thought patterns influence the way I write and think in English. Losing one's mother tongue is a constant problem for translators. However there is little chance that I will ever be translating poetry, not something I reckon to be up to. My second cousin Renate Orth-Gutmann, who translates David Lodge, Roddy Doyle and Barbara Vine often works on translating the poems with her husband. Fortunately the academic texts I mainly work on usually rather require I send my husband off to hunt down a foot note!

Friday, 17 April 2009

A Friday five on appliances from RevGal pals

So here's another Friday five from Revgalpals

1. What is the one appliance you simply couldn't be without?

The dishwasher. And I have to eat humble pie about this, I held out against having one for a long time, we're still not good at feeding and unloading the beast but I have no nostaligia at all for doing the dishes by hand.

2. What if anything would you happily give up?
I would happily give up the coffee machine but marital strife would ensue and that would make me unhappy so it should stay. I think I ought to happily give up the tumble drier because it so very bad for the environment and getting rid of it would require me to completely rethink the way I live and plan.

3. What is the strangest household appliance you own?
A wormery that eats and composts our kitchen waste - very green except it's black. I love the fact that it's called a lombricomposteur in French. Having that makes me feel a little less guilty about using the tumble drier. Buy your own here.

4. What is the most luxurious household appliance you own?
Our house came with underfloor central heating and white tiles. I suppose that may be the biggest "white good" I (part) own. However I suspect the most luxurious item we own is a second rather elderly frig-freezer which we seem to use exclusively to keep wine and champagne cool in. (Yes I know my green credentials just took another nosedive.)

5. Tell us about your dream kitchen- the sky is the limit here...
At first I though Bulthaup, steel, Gaggenau, island unit, double hob etc.
Then I thought no, my dream kitchen is about a way of life, being able to move seemlessly between it, the living space and the garden. It needs to either have room for a sofa in it or a living room nearby where people can hang out and chat with whoever is in the kitchen, access to the garden or a big window ledge for herbs is important.
In my dream kitchen no matter how much I cook and entertain there is always still enough work surface left and I never mislay anything ever! (I wish :-)
There is also a very special je ne sais quoi in my dream kitchen. Latish in the evening after entertaining the hostess is sitting down and there comes from the kitchen the noise of someone doing the tidying up, loading and unloading the dishwasher. It is the sexiest and most reassuring sound I know, it never fails to make me smile and count my blessings. The man I love is clearing up. Lucky or what?
Writing this I realised more than ever that I more or less have my dream kitchen. It's not about perfect things and appliances, it's about the people who inhabit the dream kitchen and what goes on there. So what goes on in God's kitchen?

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Daniel Cohn Bendit and the end of the era of the superpower

There's an internview with Daniel Cohn-Bendit in Réforme. A member of the European parliament who is both French and German, a social democrat and a green, he speaks about how he sees the world as being currently at the crossroads between various crises - the economic and financial crises, the ecological crisis and the globalisation crisis.
In a fairly pragmatic way he says that the outcome of the recent G20 meant there was hope for future political action.
Anyway old 1968ers are not the only ones out arguing for their cause at the moment. Europe goes to the polls in just over 6 weeks time, to elect a new European parliament. What will the impact of the economic crisis be on the shape of the new parliament?

Word of the day - die Gegenwart der Vergangenheit

I read this splendid oxymoron last night as one of the headings in this excellent appreciation of Christa Wolf's life and work. I suppose it means "the present of the past", it just has a different weight and rhythm in German which is intrinsically pleasing. Given that so much of Christa Wolf's work is also about how the past impinges in very real ways on the present it is also a very apposite title.
What's your favourite oxymoron?

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Out of silence ...

Given the Easter season I have been thinking - as have others - about the ending to Mark's gospel, the empty tomb and terror. How out of the silence of the empty tomb comes resurrection. So often clergy feel the need to fill the silence rather than let it be for a while. What is our problem with the void, why do we need to fill it?
Talking about the gospel, remembered Bible and narrative theology with Janet on the phone tonight I realised that allowing silence, letting silence happen, being comfortable with it and uncomfortable with is in some way allowing the resurrection to happen. If you fill the silence the other person may never speak. If you always fill the silence the other person may never pray.
I'm also thinking back to our conversation about both of us feeling reticence about "branding" the church. Janet even told me about how she had once asked a group she was doing Bible study with to tell her what the Jesus' gospel brand was. "Not one of them came up with 'The kingdom of heaven is like...' you know. There was a load of stuff about organic niceness though."
Thinking now after our energetic conversation - try getting a speech therapist and an interpreter together to reflect about silence, I promise you there won't be a dull moment - and about the empty tomb and the late industrial obsession with branding, with getting our name out there, I wondered whether the idea of branding isn't sometimes silence that's broken far too early. An inability to let things become, to let content or the idea speak for and prove itself.
Anyway, my conversation with Janet had its hilarious moments as she read out words in German for me to translate, all about the difference between remembering and memorising, remembering and the study of history.
Then in the silence of my remembering I remembered that I began my day reading this via David Ker's blog - "A brave man's words keep his memory alive". Sometimes it's vitally important that not just the story but also the text gets handed down to us - for us to be able to remember.
Out of silence ...
"Gibson Elliott made an impression with his clear mission to bring peaceful change to his battered nation. 'I just can't work with people who kill people,' he said. And he didn't, no matter what."

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Henri Meschonnic - death of a great poet translator

I've mentioned Henri Meschonnic only once before and was sad to read tributes to him in Le Monde following his death last week aged 76 from leukemia.
What a follows is a far too brief résumé of two articles about him in Sunday's Le Monde.
A poet, linguist, translator and polemicist, he found that structuralism often led to an impoverishment of literary translation. He translated the Bible and was keen to give his translations of the Hebrew scriptures a real feeling for and rhythm of the original language, to give the Jewish text its Jewish specificity. He saw Bible translation as being basically a Christian enterprise, not fully based on the source language and usually completely ignoring the rhythm of the original biblical text. What was most important for him was to give readers a sense and feeling for the beauty and complexity of the texts.
Le Monde quotes him as saying: "Hebrew doesn't say 'holy language' it says 'language of holiness'. There is language and there is holiness. The paradox is that I translate a text written in the language of holiness but I don't do this as someone who is religious. I do it as someone who tries to understand the relationship between that which is divine and language."

In his final work De Monde en Monde he said "Je ne parle pas mes mots, ce sont mes mots qui me disent et qui me réconcilient". I can only attempt a very limping translation of this, something like "I do not speak my words, it is my words which say me and which reconcile me".
Meanwhile I'm looking forward to one day having time to read his translations of the Five Scrolls and of the first four books of the Bible. Perhaps one day I will make time for that and for Martin Buber's translation of the Bible. Then of course there is André Chouraqui too, but at least I've already started on his translation. Too many books, too little time ...

An Easter sermon on Luke 24

Where are you with the Easter story?

Are you still looking at the outline of the three crosses against the sky, wondering about the terrible communal and individual violence that led to a prophetic leader being brutally and slowly publicly executed?

Or are you with the women carrying creative pungently perfumed spices - terrified and shocked to not be able to anoint the dead body in the tomb.
Either way the focus seems to be violence and death.

Yet somehow the words of the two men (were they angels?) dressed in dazzling clothes begin to convince the women that this is not a story about death but about the risen one. The terror is replaced by a remembering of what Jesus said to them while he was with them, and the women leave the tomb of death and tell their story to the eleven who dismiss it as an idle tale.

Yet because the women have dared to listen to the angels,
dared to remember what Jesus said to them while he was alive,
dared to return to relationship and to tell their story in the face of ridicule,
the story of the resurrection gets out of the tomb
And there's something about the idle story that sets Peter's feet running
Something about the grave clothes that makes him wonder …
Was it really just an idle tale?

Christ's resurrection was never a conjuring trick with bones
but was always about the triumph of relationship, humility, beauty, audacity and creativity over the obsession with death and violence.

The Canadian theologian and Quaker Grace Jantzen begins her highly erudite and very intuitive book Foundations of Violence: Death and the Displacement of Beauty by telling this story and asking these questions:

"At the height of the bombardment of Sarajevo, so the story goes, a string quartet visited that city. One morning, as bombs were falling, the cellist look his instrument out into a square and began to play. Soldiers, hearing him, rushed to order him to take shelter, 'You are mad.’ they said; 'get inside. Look! Can't you see what's happening?'
'Yes’ he said. 'Look. Can't you see what's happening? And you say that I am mad?'
Who is mad and who is sane in a world in which beauty confronts death, and violence silences creativity? How can we learn to name what is happening, and find resources for transformation? Where are the springs of hope, that could bring newness and flourishing into a death-dealing world How can newness enter the world? Where may we look to find the resources for redeeming the present?"

Of course the cellist playing did not immediately stop the bombs
And of course perhaps it is just an idle tale and he never really played in the war zone

The resurrection is about beauty and creativity, perfume and tears being the key resources for redeeming the world

So the story of the cellist is still being told
And the story of the bread breaker, foot washer and tomb quitter from Galilee also still goes on

In our language about resurrection we so often get lost in triumphalism,
Talking about the mighty event of the resurrection

Yet actually resurrection is about a remembered promise in an empty tomb
It is by humble word of mouth that the idle story that changes the world will be told

Most of us will not play cello to make beauty sound out while the bombs fall
Though some of us in this amazing international place may have done even more beautiful and audacious things than that

Resurrection is about relatedness,
The joyous beautiful sound of laughter
Random acts of kindness

An encouragement to all of us to go on telling the idle tale
To overcome obsessions with death and violence and to feed Christ's resurrection creativity and beauty back into the world

So where are we now with resurrection?
Still stuck at Good Friday or daring to threaten the world of violence and death with our cello tunes of beauty and creativity against bombs, bullets and stabbings?

Christ is risen, Christ is risen indeed!
Let us in joy greet one another with this Easter affirmation – Alleluia!

Sermon preached in the Ecumenical Centre, Geneva Tuesday 14 April 2009
copyright(c) Jane Stranz/WCC

Further reading:
Grace Jantzen, Foundations of Violence – Death and the Displacement of Beauty, Routledge, 2004.
Janet Lees, Word of Mouth, Wild Goose Publications, 2007.
Kennings and Cookies
On the Vision4Life website

Monday, 13 April 2009

Musings on the resurrection

It's been a glorious resurrection day. I've enjoyed the sunshine and watched wagtails and blackbirds in my garden as the forsythia and cherry blossom light up the springtime urban landscape.
In an idle way I've been musing on resurrection, on the rather militartistic language of triumph we use to talk about the mighty resurrection of Christ. I've been thinking about how we remain rather obsessed with the image of the cross and seem unable to cope with the image of the empty tomb, the upright, masculine image of the planted cross is clearer than the more hidden and feminine image of the empty tomb.
Over the doors of the Protestant Church here in Ferney you can just decipher "nous prêchons Christ crucifié" 1 Cor. 1.23 and whenever someone suggests regilding the lettering I try to resist, wishing it rather said something about resurrection or love and not more concentration on the crucifixion and Good Friday. Our German guest at dinner yesterday said that he even now had the feeling that Good Friday was really the holiest day of the year. My rather speedy reply to that was well of course you're a German Protestant! Yet the piety that focuses on Good Friday means that the joy and exuberance and beauty of the resurrection sometimes never really touches people as deeply as the pain of the cross. Many German Protestants may only take communion on Good Friday, which doesn't really give them a fully rounded experience of the eucharist.
Today I've been reading what is available to read online of Grace Jantzen's book Foundations of Violence - Death and the Displacement of Beauty. I feel both challenged and reassured by her insistance that we are natals not mortals, concerned about my own obsession with death rather than with life. I've been wondering if I am up to the feminist challenge of preaching in a way that believes in beauty rather than is obsessed with death. I've tried a bit in my sermon for tomorrow morning, but I suspect in the end I am not radical enough, too loyal to the institution. Grace was a Quaker.
Anyway here is how Jantzen's erudite and intuitive book begins - I've just ordered a copy and have discovered to my delight that volume two has now also been published, real resurrection good news.
"At the height of the bombardment of Sarajevo, so the story goes, a string quartet visited that city. One morning, as bombs were falling, the cellist look his instrument out into a square and began to play. Soldiers, hearing him, rushed to order him to take shelter, 'You are mad." they said; 'get inside. Look! Can't you see what's happening?'
'Yes" he said. 'Look. Can't you sec what's happening? And you say that I am mad?'
Who is mad and who is sane in a world in which beauty confronts death, and violence silences creativity? How can we learn to name what is happening, and find resources for transformation? Where are the springs of hope, that could bring newness and flourishing into a death-dealing world?
Not all sources of hope are intellectual of course;
but my concern here is with what intellectuals offer. It is my belief that what the world sorely needs from intellectuals is an analysis of how the thought patterns of the west!have shaped and mis-shaped the world, and how they might be changed to enable human flourishing. There is a widespread 'demand for a transformative practice of philosophy that would be capable of addressing criticizing, and ultimately redeeming the present' (Critchley 1998: 10). How can newness enter the world? Where may we look to find the resources for redeeming the present?"

In Veritas, Vino

Dr B. thought I should also have noted the wines we had at our Easter repas, so here goes. All the reds came from the Languedoc region, so for us they have the "taste of holiday", though if the truth be known it's been a long time since we have been down there ...

Champagne, Brut Grand Cru, NV, Ouriet-Pâture, Ambonnay (located in the appropriately named maybe to anglophone ears Rue de Bouzy)

Chateau Pique-Sègue, AOC Montravel 2007, White, Medaille d'Or Paris 2008, Port Sainte-Foy
The name « Montravel » comes from the Latin In Monte Revelationem (On the mount, I had a revelation)

Domaine le Cazal, Le Pas de Zarat, AOC Minervois 2000, Red, La Caunette
(The vineyard is at the end of a former French Route Nationale over the Minervois hills that has however now been declassified and seems as if it is going nowhere)

Chateau Vaillé, AOC Coteaux de Languedoc, 2007, Red, Salelles du Bosc, Medaille d'Or, vignerons independants, 2008
(The Vaillé family have been vignerons since 1792)

Domaine de Viranel, Trilogie, VdP Cessenon, 2002, Red, Cessenon-sur-Orb

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Easter lunch

It's been fun. On the menu chatting about life, reading and food, and hearing about how our friend Andreas rode his new tricycle back from Germany while also transporting special spaghetti pumpkins! Some of us even managed to try out his strange new beast, sorry we forgot to get a picture of that.

Anyway if you're interested here's our menu:
Springtime vegetables with homemade mayonnaise (big discovery for all of us were the delicious turnips as well as the asparagus, radishes, broccoli and beetroot).

Roast lamb or mushroom-almond bake with roast potatoes, broad beans and carrots.

Cheese from chez Michelin. Kristin's delicious apple pie and strawberry-cointreau pavlova. After all of that coffee was very necessary.

Happy Easter

Our narcissi are still just blooming, despite what A E Houseman wrote about the Lent Lily dying on Easter Day.
We enjoyed going to church on this hopeful morning. It's interesting how the Orthodox tradition of saying "Christ is risen, he is risen indeed!" has found itself into many Protestant Easter liturgies. By which I probably mean even ones not put together my me! I always try to include it throughout the Easter season, it adds lift and a different frame to worship at this time of resurrection. It also adds a smile which to me is essential for resurrection worship. There's even a tradition of Easter Laughter in Germany. Banned by Pope Clement X according to information here, so another good reason to laugh at Easter tide.
Walking back from post service coffee and celebratory champagne I realised what a privilege it is in France to be able to walk to Protestant church from my home, how lucky I am to live where I do and how good it is to be locally connected and linked in.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Word of the day "Mutmachen" with Margot Kässmann

We've treated ourselves to the Easter issue of Die Zeit. It has children's pages (click on the link for some fun ways to decorate Easter eggs) and some children doing a front page interview with Bishop Margot Kässmann.
Kässmann uses the lovely word mutmachen to talk about God's relationship with us, Gott macht uns Mut. In many ways it means reassurance but as you can see from these results from Leo, Mut has overtones and undertones of many other layers of meaning - grit, guts, valour, courage, boldness ...
It's a lovely word and a good word to use when talking about faith with German children. Anyway Kässmann's also answers tricky questions about Easter eggs and bunnies and talks about her working week and family life.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Rev gal pals Good Friday five

I've never taken part in RevGalPals Friday five but thought I would at the end of this Good Friday. Here are the five questions:
1. How will you pray and worship today?
2. Share a powerful memory or memories of Good Friday past.
3. How have you grown and experienced God's love during this past Lent?
4. In whom do you see the face of the suffering Christ most clearly?
5. Where do you find hope for resurrection?

I've spent much of the day looking forwards to going to the servicethis evening in the Reformed Church in my town in France. This was only the second time I have gone there on Good Friday since I left as the serving minister in the parish and the way back over the past 18 months to the place where I once led worship has been an interesting and surprisingly gentle path of reconciliation. Today is a holiday in Switzerland where I work but not in France where I live. I missed the discipline of morning prayer in the chapel at work but I did enjoy finishing reading a book in bed this morning! That relaxation, spending time with friends over lunch and just pottering around helped me prepare to go to church and be part of music and prayers with the tiny group of folk who gathered there.
I worshipped with the lovely organ and flute music, through singing German chorales with French words, looking at the simple wooden cross and somehow glimpsing for a moment understanding of suffering and atonement. We listened to the passion narrative from John's gospel and prayed with words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The service helped me to just let my thoughts meander.
They meandered to a packed St Thomas Church in Leipzig in 1990 in the former GDR (East Germany) where I sat next to the man I loved and listened to Bach's St John's passion, in the church where Bach had been the choir master. I had preached at a Good Friday service in Wolfen where I was student minister and then got on a train to Leipzig. It was an enormous privilege - we had free tickets because the son of the manse I was living in was one of the choristers. Five months earlier the Berlin wall had fallen, Good Friday and Easter were in the middle of the country's first free election campaign. (Well that's how I remember it but perhaps I should check the dates!) It was an uneasy Good Friday, as I look back now I realise these were people waiting for the shock and threat of the future.
This Lent I have grown in my understanding of anger as a positive and negative force in all of our lives. I have also grown in my understanding of leadership being about containing anger, fear and frustration. A Franco-Swiss theologian called Lytta Basset has written a book called Holy Anger and I remember feeling very liberated just reading the title. I have experienced God's love this Lent at moments when I have been welcomed or let go. I let go of responsibility to prepare worship during Holy Week (well almost!) and was deeply ministered to by others. Yesterday a Maundy Thursday service which began with people laying roses around the altar helped me understand that I can let go of my longing for wholeness and completeness and learn to live with the fragmented nature of life and faith.
I see the suffering face of Christ in so many places, yet it is true that I see it today most clearly in women, men and children living in desparate grinding and unrelenting poverty and war. I do also see it in those great witnesses to faith and humanity who have gone through some form of what might be called "heroic suffering". However, throughout Lent I have been trying to raise awareness of justice and water through the Ecumenical Water Network's Seven Weeks for Water. I have never spent a single day of my life having to worry about whether I would be able to have enough water to drink. Perhaps today I see Christ's suffering more in those people whose suffering seems intractable, unchanging and never-ending - trudging daily to carry water, trying to find enough food. While I worry about the meaning of life, people worry about being able to go on living ... meaningless, dehumanizing suffering grinding people into the dust. Who will remember them?
I find hope for resurrection in remembering the Bible and remembering people. As I wrote "who will remember them" this verse came to my mind: Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. (Matt 10.29)
There is hope for resurrection in God's memory being so much greater than ours, holding together the human fragments of so many genocides and wars and calling humanity back to humanity, life and love. "Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom".
And thank you for asking for a poem - it has made me search out Elizabeth Jennings Collected Poems from the back of my bookshelves. I half remembered her poem Resurrection but here's the poem that follows it and where I left a bookmark, it's a meditation on the painting accompanying this post.
Mantegna's Agony in the Garden

The agony is formal; three
Bodies are stretched in pure repose,
One's halo leans against a tree,
Over a book his fingers close:
One's arms are folded carefully.

The third man lies with sandalled feet
Thrust in the path. They almost touch
Three playful rabbits. Down the street,
Judas and his procession march
Making the distance seem discreet.

Even the praying figure has
A cared-for attitude. This art
Puts down the city and the mass
Of mountains like a counterpart
Of pain disguised as gentleness.

An yet such careful placing here
Of mountain men and agony,
Being so solid makes more clear
The pain. Pain is particular
The foreground shows a barren tree:
Is it a vulture crouching there,
No symbol but a prophecy?

copyright (c) Elizabeth Jennings

On a Friday Noon

One of the things I miss about not leading worship myself on Good Friday is reading through the book On a Friday Noon from 1979 by Hans Ruedi Weber. I have copies in French and German and the texts are powerful reflections on suffering and the cross. Perhaps I shall try and make time to do that today in between rather more prosaic visits to the garden centre. You can get a glimpse of some of the contents here.
I was given my first copy in English by David and Mary Marsden for my 18th birthday, along with a copy of Dietrich Bonheoffer's letters and papers from prison. David was one of the ministers of the church I grew up in. He and Mary had a wide ecumenical and international experience, having lived in Singapore for more than a decade. David died in February this year, he preached at my ordination and I last saw him alive at my father's funeral.

Meanwhile Simon Barrow has been reflecting and writing about his father's death, Bonhoeffer, Maundy Thursday and his appreciation of high Anglican liturgy.
May prayer and reflection be part of your day today.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Fragments on Maundy Thursday

At a lunchtime eucharist for Maundy Thursday Simone Sinn spoke about how Jesus' life could be seen as a fragment - despite the fact that all his living and preaching was about wholeness and fullness he still died young, before his time.
In German this day is called Gründonnerstag - mournful or mourning Thursday. In her introduction Simone pointed to the deep joyfulness there would have been amongst the dsiciples as they gathered for this festival supper together. Only afterwards will they have known that it was a last supper.
The word Maundy is derived through Middle English, and Old French mandé, from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the phrase "Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos" ("A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you")
As we left the altar after communion today Simone said these words of Christ to us. Maundy is not mournful but a commandment to love.
She also remembered Henning Luther, his theology of fragments, his own life as a fragment.

Feeling more than a little fragmented myself at the moment I found the service deeply moving and very satisfying.
I hope to post Simone's sermon here once she has time to send it to me.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Maundy Thursday with Seven Weeks for Water

The challenge Jesus Christ sets for us by symbolically using water at his last meeting with his disciples says loud and clear that we have to learn to embody the message of love and service for the renewal and restoration of human communities. Jesus invites us to wash ourselves of our greed and desire for power. Water must be restored to being a source of life and basic right of the whole of creation if the world is to carry on. This Holy Week, we as Jesus Christ’s disciples, are once again invited to allow Christ’s love and challenge to wash over us, so that we may embody his message to others.

"We must wash our dirty feet" says Anderson Jeremiah who has written the final meditation for this year's Seven Weeks for Water.
Jesus uses water as an effective and surprising channel to demonstrate the central aspect of his vision for the disciples’ ministry. According to John’s gospel the Last Supper took place in an undisclosed and secret room, in order for Jesus to be alone with his disciples and loved ones. There were no slaves or helpers to break the bread or to pour the wine – just the gathered few.
Photo: © P. Karl Wallner -

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Twit the whole Bible in German at the Kirchentag

Here's another fun thing that will be going on at the German Protestant Kirchentag. An attempt will be made to get a whole compressed version of the Bible written in 3,000 140 character long twitter posts and publish it in time for the closing worship. There will be about 40 volunteers at the Kirchentag who will encourage people to write a version of the 3,000 or so different Bible stories that will be available to read. The volunteers will then either enter the "tweets" into the system or make sure that written versions get sent to the central collection point. It sounds like quite a challenge but it also sounds very creative, you can read more here.
You can support the project here - now of course you will need to be able to tweet in German to take part fully but perhaps they'll also have a foreign langauge section?
I also love the German for twitter - let's all become Bibel-Gezwitscher!
The idea comes from

Power or compassion - words from Paul Ricoeur

Paul Ricœur disait « Si vraiment les religions doivent survivre, il leur faudra renoncer à toute espèce de pouvoir autre que celui d’une parole désarmée et faire prévaloir la compassion sur la raideur doctrinale... »

Monday, 6 April 2009

Do you do God?

Last week ended with a friend sending me news that someone with the same name as a local journalist has said he's a Christian. This is part of a campaign being run to counter the National Secular Society's campaign to get yourself de-baptised. There's a similar campaign in France that I've mentioned before.
Meanwhile today an issue of the New Statesman arrived and it's all about God. A N Wilson has written an interesting article rather against the trend charting his return to faith. About 20 years ago Wilson "converted" to become a born again atheist. In the article he charts how his return to faith has been "slow, hesitant and doubting". I think my favourite line in the article is "My doubting temperament made me a very unconvincing atheist."
There's also a question and answer with Wilson.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

My favourite parable

I have been reading some of the aricles on inclusive language that Thinking Anglican has linked to from a day conference organised in February by Inclusive Church and WATCH (Women and the Church). I've particularly enjoyed reading Lucy Winkett's contribution - as much for the great quotes about liturgy and language as for what she says about inclusive language. This evening reading the quote below touched me.

The parable of the lost coin is probably my favourite, if I could choose it for my funeral I would. I have often chosen it for funerals in particularly distressing circumstances. Somehow the God in this parable works for me - it's an intuitive rather than a rational thing. It's also a parable I have loved since childhood (long before even I was a feminist!) I can remember acting it out in Sunday
School and along with one or two other Bible stories it really stayed with me.
I would hate to claim to be a "more mature" theologian today but the image of a God who sweeps hard in the packed earth and dust to search us out speaks powerfully to me and moves me deeply. I also think of the three funerals I took and preached on this text, three sudden deaths leaving the families reeling with shock ... three children left without a parent, parents left without their teenage daughter, a father carrying his son's ashes the long walk to the cemetry ...

Here is what Lucy Winkett says:

If we address God as our father, yes, we are following Jesus' example - but this Jesus also told a beautiful story about God searching for us and rejoicing when we are found - a woman sweeping a house looking for a lost coin. Who is that searching woman if not God?
God is a woman who searches for us and she finds us, she calls her friends and is utterly delighted.

Liturgy, informality and remembering water

I could tell this morning at Oullins that I wasn't in Switzerland. We didn't start the service on time - in a Geneva Protestant Church this would not go down well, it's quite a big difference when you cross the border.(Think Swiss watches and clocks and you begin to understand why!)
Sometimes we talk about the "liturgy after the liturgy" but this morning we had a great lunch after the service but before the service we also had a sort of "gathering before the liturgy". It was spring time, the sunshine was out, the garden was in flower, people were having fun chatting and meeting up, and it was difficult to get people to move in to the worship space. In the end we managed to gather in the worship space and the worship flowed between formality and informality. Holding that together is quite a challenge for a visiting worship leader but it was fun remembering water in the Bible with them and reflecting on Jesus washing his disciples feet.
When I first started working in the French Reformed Church I sometimes used to feel frustrated at the inability of anything to actually start - not entirely suprising given that I trained at the more high church end of the low church spectrum. I used to feel the need to shape things and get things going - these days I just try to make sure that the notices don't last twice as long as the sermon!
Nowadays I understand better that the informality comes from the community gathering, the chatter and noise is part of the holy preparation and I imagine that in Jesus' time it was not so different. The synagogues and sycamore trees were almost certainly informal community times and not ritualistic well-behaved occasions ressembling middle class dinner parties with people being on their best behaviour.
In Switzerland where Protestants don't feel in a minority they seem to like things to be on time and not last too long. In France Protestants are in the minority and tend to be willing to take a bit more time.
I'm still not sure what Calvin would make of any of this - nor how any of our churches today would cope with his style of preaching and leading worship! Back in the 1600s Sunday worship was not supposed to be the perfect 55 minute pearl of poetic perfection which "busy" professionals seem to impose as a norm on the Genevan church.