Saturday, 31 October 2009

Twenty years ago today - experiences of a spirituality of civil society

On October 31 1989 I was in Wittenberg.
Dr B is busy this evening typing up part of my diary from that day for Holy Disorder. (see below)
At morning prayers yesterday I mentioned where I had been 20 years earlier. We sang Ein Feste Burg ist unser Gott and I told the usual Wittenberg joke of how during the 1983 Luther jubliee the local communist party leader had commented on how nice the restored mosaic round the top of the church tower looked - it says "Ein Feste Burg". Apparently he said to the church leaders "We want to put something similar over the top of the local party headquarters, maybe you could suggest something." One of the pastors apparently quickly replied "oh why don't you take the first line of verse two of Luther's great hymn" - it starts "Mit unsre Macht ist nichts getan" - rendered less forcefully in many English versions but basically meaning "Our power is as nothing". Six years later when I was in Wittenberg there was still no mosaic over the communist party headquarters!

Last night as a sort of bedtime story Stephen read me part of a practical theology dissertation based on deep analysis of the structure and content of the Wittenberg Gebet um Erneuerung. It was amazing to hear and read that and to realise quite why it was when I returned to the UK everything seemed a bit boring and much less meaningful. German had become the language in which God moved me. I had seen what seemed like a whole population pile into churches, sing Taizé chants, be moved by the Psalms and awakened by the words of the prophets and gospels. It explains to me also why even today I'm a hopeless believer in the transformative power of the liturgy.
When we left the church in Wittenberg in a candlelit procession on October 31 1989 we hoped things would proceed peacefully, but we didn't know for sure. The researcher rightly points out that the songs which were sung actually gave people courage to walk out of the church on that candlelit procession, our closing hymn that night was Bewahre uns Gott behüte uns Gott, sei mit uns auf unseren Wegen - Keep and protect us God, be with us on our way...
In the morning of October 31 it was usual for visitors from around the world to make their way to Wittenberg's Schlosskirche even under communism. Wittenberg became quite international that day and it was no coincidence that the evening Prayers for Renewal service was planned to be followed by a demonstration from the town's churches to the main square.
Re-reading my diary you can really understand why the five new Bundesländer have Reformation Day as a public holiday.

From my East German Diary dateline 1 Nov 1989
The Gebet um Erneuerung in the evening was preceded by a certain amount of tension - what if there was violence, how would we cope? ... It went well. Over an hour before the start, the church was full and the courtyard outside was packed. Hans Treu, the dean of Wittenberg, had written a very good meditation and had led the intercessions so there was no clapping or speechifying. As we sang the Kyrie, suddenly the atmosphere changed and in the gallery, people started lighting their candles. It was very moving. The demonstration was terribly orderly. I was one of two people carrying a banner reading, "You can't fill a hungry soul with prosperity". We were very near the back. I felt rather uncomfortable that I and not a GDR person was carrying something. Our candles dribbled wax everywhere, of course, making weird and wonderful sculptures on our hands.
In the distance it looked as if a small group of police were watching the demonstration from the corner, but as we got closer it turned out to be a group of Soviet soldiers who had turned up to watch us. Someone had even handed one of them a candle. One of the students greeted them in Russian and they returned the greeting with a smile. It was a small sign of the kingdom of God.
The market place was full, the local council had supplied (spontaneously) a proper P.A. system. It was all a bit calm, still a church service really. People no doubt expected a bit more. Some shouting at the town hall, "Come out". We sang a bit more, things were read about Luther and Melanchthon. Demokratischer Aufbruch and Demokratie Jetzt read their programmes out. DA sees socialism as the dominant force in the GDR. DJ sees no role for socialism except with a (modern) democratic set-up. DA is like a left wing Social Democratic Party and DJ like a left wing Free Democratic Party. It's all really weird. No doubt they will all start splitting rather than merging in the coming years. There's supposedly a meeting of the United Left coming off soon, which really of course means a meeting of the Un-United Left. Once everyone had finished talking and it was agreed that we'd meet again next week and invite the Burgermeister as well. The market place was covered in candles, really very pretty. Many were on the steps of the Rathaus where the 7 Theses (thank goodness not 95!) had been attached to the door as a reminder of Luther.
It was stressed throughout the evening that this was not a church/state conflict but a people/state conflict. Quite an important difference but for how much longer can the church speak for the people, will it be able to give up that role? ...
Discussion over supper indicates that the local newspaper carried pictures and a full article about yesterday's demonstration, over 8000 people they reckon. In Prague many arrests have been made in the past fortnight. Havel is in jail again. If the world markets are about to go through a sticky patch then it's really worrying to think what the effect on Glasnost and Perestroika might be.

Information is not communication

I am not quite sure how this happened but today, after a quick flit around the Ferney market, post office and pharmacy, we headed off to spend a bit of time in Geneva, particularly Plainpalais and Carouge. I needed to buy tights and succeeded in doing this, but somehow after a lovely time at the Carouge market and the café du marché, we seem to have arrived home with about 8 more books. Fortunately they are for the most part not too long so I hope they won't distract me from the writing I am going to do this weekend.
Dr B bought me Dominique Wolton's Informer n'est pas communiquer from the Librairie du Boulevard. Wolton has his own site here filled with lots of great quotes.
The essay contained in the book points to today's challenge of "information having become abundant and communication rare". Although I have not yet read the whole essay, each page I turn to has thought-provoking aphorisms which help me think about my work as part of a communications department:
"Emphasising that communication and the funcitoning of the public space are about living together, is also to reflect on the need to manage both the inherent differences in our societies and the upholding of a principle of unity, with the perspective of renewing contemporary characteristics of the society" p. 33
At the end of the book (yes ok I admit it I am one of theose dreadful people who often looks at the end of books before having read the middle) Wolton looks at the issue of the environment in particular and says that "this is why information and communication are such important questions at the beginning of this century. Questions of war and peace."
On his website Wolton has this quote which I think sums up his approach brilliantly
"L'information va de plus en plus vite, la communication toujours aussi lentement."
(Information is going faster and faster, communication still goes just as slowly as ever)

Friday, 30 October 2009

A week for pure Schadenfreude - mainly à la française

Sometimes I do worry that my spirituality is not quite up to scratch where compassion is concerned. This morning I kept shouting "good, good, good"in a somewhat over-excited fashion as the radio news led with headlines that Tony Blair is almost certainly not going to be the new European president. I do not want the man who rode sidecar to George W. Bush when invading Iraq to have any further role in politics. Now it seems he may have been thwarted I dare say he'll try to get a role as a "goodwill ambassador" somewhere. Tony, those of us who voted for you as PM wish you had listened to the voice of conscience rather more carefully than you seemed able to. People are getting killed today because of your lack of moral fibre. I am rather pleased that he has been outmanoeuvred by Angela Merkel.
Earlier this week there was a moment of joy when I heard that deeply unpleasant French politician Charles Pasqua had been sentenced to a year in prison for his role in illegal arms trading deals in Angola. You have no idea how rare it is for anyone in French politics to actually see the inside of a prison when found guilty.
Now today more Schadenfreude inhabits my doubtless deeply flawed soul as I learn that former French president Jacques Chirac is to stand trial for corruption. Yippee! He was lucky to get elected in 1995 and so escaped a trial at that point - presidents are exempt from legal proceedings while in office in France.
So is what I'm feeling Schadenfreude or is it just a reflection of that exaltation we see in the Magnificat?
He hath put down the mighty from their seat : and hath exalted the humble and meek.
Now I suppose my Freude would be complete if we could see the humble lifted high as well as the mighty cast down.

Longing for the endless immensity of the sea ...

If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I had not come across this quote before this week and then as often happens I heard it twice in the space of 24 hours. Margot Kässmann used it in her hustings speech to the EKD and after listening to that online, I then came across it again as one of the quotes for a Bible study during our week of meetings. It's a concept that sums up leadership.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Working below the surface ...

My copy of this book has just arrived.Working Below the Surface: The Emotional Life of Contemporary Organisations (Tavistock Clinic) by Clare Huffington (Editor), David Armstrong (Editor).
At the end of an intensive and quite emotional week of meetings at work it's going to make for some stimulating reading over the weekend as I return to writing my diploma in leadership. there are fascinating looking chapters: from sycophant to saboteur, what women leaders can tell us, the vanishing organization and a whole section on working with the experience of vulnerability.
Posting the book here is in part a way of getting teh creative juices flowing again for the weekend, it's also my way of saying that posting here may be rather intermittant in the weeks ahead. Even if I'm not blogging here, I am still writing, working below the surface you might say. The most irritating about having to write is that I don't have time to read my favourite blogs as much as I would like. Ah well there's always the Christmas holidays.
Anyway I can't tell you how excited I am about what I am reading and what I am trying to write

So who are the women church leaders?

Yesterday, I started trying to put together a list of women church leaders currently serving in the world ... so far I have got to a rather exclusive group of five, but maybe tehre are more - let me know:

1) I was very proud when my own church, the United Reformed Church was the first in the UK to appoint a woman as head of the denomination. Roberta Rominger comes originally from the USA and she's been doing a really great and challenging job since she took over in 2008.

2) Sharon Watkins is the General Minister and President, and thus the leader of her denomination, the Disciples in the USA. She preached the sermon at the national prayer service following Barack Obama's inauguration.

3) Katharine Jefferts Schori has been presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the USA
since 2006 and has been involved in difficult church political issues.

4) Margot Kässmann was elected yesterday as the chairperson of the EKD Council in Germany.

5) Jana Jeruma-Grinberga was appointed as the presiding bishop of the Lutheran Church in great Britain.

Edit: Following the comments below I feel I should say that I am trying to list women in national positions of leadership. There are fortunately already quite a number women at regional levels of leadership around the world - bishops, moderators, regional presidents etc. - but very, very few at national levels of leadership. It is just starting to break through now and this does represent a huge change.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Gender justice for (Lutheran) daily bread

You can follow the Lutheran World Federation's women's pre assembly meeting and their blog here.
This morning women brought grains, bread and baskets from many lands, bringing to life the 11th LWF Assembly theme, Give Us Today Our Daily Bread. Women took fabric squares and wrote on them a word of hope for our futures together. Women raised their voices in song and praise, praying as the one who is the bread of heaven taught us, lifting up the prayer in a wonderful cacophony of languages. This was our opening worship.

Meanwhile, the LWF has also elected a new general secretary, Martin Junge from Chile, this week. The LWF also has a new website that Terri Miller has been working hard on in recent months.

Kässmann elected - excellent news!

More to be found out on the EKD site soon. We've just announced the news at our staff meeting here to applause from all present. Good news.

So will today be the day Kässmann gets elected?

Regular readers will have gathered that our household is rather strange. We spent a large chunk of yesterday evening watching EKD television's live coverage of the EKD Council's election. Every one of the 15 members of the Council has to get a two thirds majority. So far only 14 members have been elected in 12 successive rounds of voting which ended at about 01.30 this morning. The final candidate withdrew because she didn't get a two-thirds majority even though she was the only name on the ballot paper.
The first person elected, in the very first round of voting, was bishop Margot Kässmann pictured here. She is now tipped to become the first female chairperson of the EKD Council, making her potentially the most influential woman church leader anywhere in the world - it has to be said that the club of women church leaders is one of the most exclusive - or maybe that's not the right word, after all it's not the women church leaders who are doing the excluding, it's just a very small group.
Anyway the election of the chairperson was due to take place today but because there is not yet a full Council there may be legal problems with proceeding immediately with that. Maybe I'll be spending a second evening watching the live coverage from the synod! Meanwhile this blog wishes Margot Kässmann every blessing.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Jonah and going overboard

There are days when I come home and think that I am extraordianrily privileged to have the job I do - even if it is tiring, demanding and even draining on occasions.
After morning prayers today members of staff joined in Bible study and Fulata Mbano Moyo led us in reading the first chapter of the book of Jonah. The focus of part of our staff meetings today was on consensus decision-making and Fulata chose the Jonah text to get us thinking about decision-making. Do we do make decisions like Jonah did by running away from the call of God? Do we draw lots like the sailors on Jonah's boat to try to divine what is going on in our lives? When we think we have discerned what is going on do we try to row against the storm or do we throw the supposed scapegoat to the stormy waves hoping to placate an angry God? Did the sailors on baord the boat reach the right consensus?
We had a fascinating discussion at the table I was at and then just before time was called our general secretary elect said "isn't this text about people taking the worng decisions? Jonah not listening to God's call, the sailors choosing human sacrifice to calm the waves?"
In the end our small group came to the consensus that even in the midst of the chaos of dreadful human crisis decision-making and scape-goating God still tries to intervene sending along saving fish, offering grace and resurrection.
Enlivening Bible study like this is a great way to start the day.

Are you happy?

My friend Marcelo posted this brilliant graphic to his blog last week - I think it was around the time of his wedding anniversary.
I've been thinking alot about happiness, wondering whether I am happy - strangely I do find I have been smiling alot more in recent weeks, feeling more at peace too.
Happiness is such a gentle non-assertive word yet it is also a totally essential non-material value - in organisations, in life. I learnt yesterday at the WHO that it is also an essential non-material value in individual and community health.
So what would you like - more money or feeling happier?
Are you happy? And why are you happy?
Unless you are Danish, renowned for being the happiest place on earth, it may be quite complex to begin to answer that. Maybe that's one of the reasons that Dr B and I are thinking of travelling to Copenhagen for Christmas. In the meantime the thing that is making Dr B and myself happy this evening is watching the live feed from the EKD council elections. We must be deeply, deeply strange! Anyway the 8th round of voting is about to be called, do listen in here to the commentary and live reporting from the EKD synod in Ulm. It's fun if elections are amongst the things that excite you and make you happy.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Violence and health

Together with more than 20 other colleagues we began our WCC meetings week with a visit to the World Health Organization which is almost next door to the ecumenical centre in Geneva. We had four fascinating presentations linking some of the WHO's work to areas of the programmatic work on Health and Healing and also on HIV on the WCC's agenda. I certainly learnt a great deal, including that the issue of "spiritual" health has been tabled for inclusion in the WHO's declaration on health but doesn't ever seem to ever quite yet make it into the organization's declaration about health. It was both heartening and depressing to hear workers in that much bigger international bureaucracy talk about the challenges of their campaigning work, decision-making procedures and actually having some impact.
The final presentation of the morning was quite a revelation to me. The Decade to Overcome Violence team at the WCC has been working with the WHO's Global Campaign for Violence Prevention. Listening to the global statistics about violent death I was very struck by suicide causing more deaths worldwide than war in the most recent figures available. One death every forty seconds. I wondered how much of my time I spend in praying for peace and overcoming war and how much I spend in praying for those suffering from depression, unhappiness and daily anguish. The fireworks and pornography of violence attract so much of our attention, our theological reflection, our prayers- and yet this "attraction" also distracts our attention from the at least equally important spiritual and theological issue of combatting misery, unhappiness and meaningless. Of course it shouldn't be "either / or" but "both /and". I left the WHO with alot to think about.
The powerful poster here is one of a series from the campaign called "explaining away violence" - you can look at the others and download them by clicking on the link.


I have just posted the liturgy that Fulata Mbano Moyo prepared for this morning to the docs sections. together with two other female colleagues she reflected on what being persistent in prayer might mean as we thought more deeply about the story of the widow and the unjust judge in Luke's gospel.
Luzia Wehrle shared a story about the young Chiara Lubich persistence at asking difficult questions and making difficult assertions in her philosophy class at school - despite needing to always get good grades in order to get the scholarship she needed to continue studying.
Rima Barsoum shared powerful stories of muslim women praying and losing their lives because of the vigour of their prayers. She asked for our persistent prayers for muslim women arrested in their own countries for praying for peace with justice in their contexts.
I felt challenged by these reflectiosn and by the persistence of the widow. My own prayer tries hard to be more or less disciplined, but I'm not sure I could describe it as persistent. My whole life I have found it hard to ask for what I want - perhaps that in itself is because I come from a very privileged background and have wanted for very little. Being able to ask God persistently in prayer requires desire as well. Perhaps it is that desire, that "wanting" that I sometimes lack.
the promise in the gospel text is that even if an unjust judge can do justice then how much more will a gracious God do justice. Speak, pray, enunciate your demand, yell out your cry, God will listen.

Gloom into hope

In the light of the resurrection despair is always premature.
God has a project in today’s events.
In paths we have not known, God leads, turning gloom into hope.

From a liturgy prepared by Deenbandhu Manchala to mark Diwali with the people of India, Pakistan and Srilanka

Friday, 23 October 2009

Women's blog on daily bread

The Lutheran World Federation is preparing for its assembly next year and the theme is Daily Bread. A group of women linked to the LWF have started a blog about women, justice and food which you can find here. They're looking for comments and contributions, so why not get writing.
Tsion Alemayehu from Ethiopia says this about the project on the LWF youth blog

The blog that I am working on is designed to encourage women to post their experience, faith, stories , food justice and a lot more in relation to the Assembly theme of LWF which is “Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread”. You can find the blog following here.
As a young woman, and also a person who comes from a developing country, I know what food really means for hungry people.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

On eagle's wings ...

but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40.31

At prayers this morning our continuously surprising and amazing colleague Manoj Kurian took us off on an early morning Bible study which compared Isaiah 40 21-31 with Matthew 11.30 "My yoke is easy and my burden light".
In our discussion Deenabandhu Manchala said he felt that the image of the "yoke" was still oppressive: faith imposed, not just a master-servant relationship but a master slave relationship. Others joked as we reflected together that the yoke of faith and following christ does not always seem so light and easy.
In many ways I felt the images of liberation are stronger and more powerful in the Isaiah texts. Just having the time to read, pray and speak together I felt in some way born up, my strength renewed. Thanks Manoj.

Women's work

There is an excellent post here by Paola Salwan of the YWCA about gender imbalance in the workplace. It makes for salutory reading.
You know what guys despite all of your moaning about "positive discrimination" and political correction you've still got it made. You get the jobs, the salaries and you get to moan about feminism too. Meanwhile women are doing an awful lot of the work that makes you look good.
Rant over (well nearly...)
Here's an extract from Salwan's article:
sadly, women are still not equal in the workplace to their male counterparts. According to the observer of the Organisation for the Economical Cooperation and Development, inequalities happen both in terms of salary ranges, but also in terms of opportunities of work. This means that, all other things being equal (experience, studies etc), a male will still earn more than a female worker.

Paola, originally from Lebanon, also blogs at the bilingual French/English Café Thawra. I'm looking forward to having more time to read that over the weekend.
In the meantime I shall try not to get too depressed at the prospects for younger and older women in the workplace, in the churches in life ...

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

There are days ...

There are days like today when I don't get to chapel for morning prayer. They happen more often than I like and not normally for good reasons (I would consider staying in bed a bit longer in the morning usually a good reason but staying in front of my computer to work not necessarily a good reason ... though with a touch of the Calvinist I feel a bit guilty about that). Today with two German visitors groups and colleagues away on holiday I knew I needed to use my time carefully this morning. Even so, particularly now at the end of the day I miss that I did not pray with others this morning.
I'm a minister of religion but I'm not a particularly holy or pious person. I don't go to chapel because I want to be seen by others, I go because I find it easier and more meaningful to pray with others. Communal prayer is in many ways personal prayer for me. Sharing in a daily discipline holds me together. Even on the rare occasions when I go to prayers and noone else is there, the fact of being in a space where we are often together helps me to pray with and for others and myself, helps me to praise and lament. Perhaps sometimes I also go out of a misplaced sense of responsibility - a need to keep something going.
Anyway when I don't pray in a disciplined way I feel a bit unstitched and out of touch - with God, myself and others. Writing this has been part of my evening prayer, my more personal Ignatian examen.
And this is my prayer tonight and in the morning, it helps me to know that others are also praying it this week, Good night.

O Creator and Mighty God,
you have promised
strength for the weak
rest for the labourers
light for the way
grace for the trials
help from above
unfailing sympathy
undying love.
O Creator and Mighty God
Help us to continue in your promise.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Of tankies, trots and another life ...

Years ago I used to be involved in politics. This weekend Dr B made a brief sortie back into part of that world and found himself back in the thick of Trotskyite, Maoist and Stalinist interpretations of Eastern Europe and the changes 20 years on. It's funny how easy it is to fall back into the old language and to delight in the terminology. It also brings a different kind of literature into the house and I'm looking forward to reading James Buchan's article on Impasse in Iran in the latest New Left Review.
Of all the things I miss living in France rather than in the country of my birth politics would be quite high up there along with pubs. I'm just not as viscerally involved in French political life.
However, one of my lecturers at college said when he heard I was going into the church "oh so you are going in to politics after all". Of course the politics in the church are often quite a bit nastier than party politics.
Anyway this household is neither maoist nor trotty and certainly not tanky. I suppose we're a strange brand of ecumenical calvinist-benjamites. However for now bed calls. The central heating has still not been repaired and the only way to keep warm is under the duvet.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Ecclesiology - what on earth is that?

Whenever I type the word ecclesiology into microsoft word it comes up underlined. The software questions the existence of this word. If only! ;-)
Ecclesiology, is, to put it mildly, pretty esoteric. It's also a bit of a problem for translators from German to English, but I'll leave that to one side for the time being (Kirchsein usw.). The rather complex nature of some of our ecumenical endeavour is summed up well by Aimee Moiso - who seems to be about to stop writing reflections about Faith and Order on her Santa Clara blog so I better get on and quote her one last time:

I love Christian unity, I love being with great people from all walks of life and from all parts of the church, and I love talking theology.
But I’m really, really tired. And it’s not just jet-lag. These topics are complicated and require a lot of brain power, and I don’t have much brain power left.
This is an important reality in ecumenical dialogue: how tired we are, how much we have going on in our lives, the difficulties we face in our own contexts – all of these can enhance or inhibit our ability to listen and to understand each other.
Folks from parts of the world where war or conflict or poverty are the norm often have little extra energy or time in own lives to sit and ponder abstract theology. Staying in a hotel in Chicago and spending three days thinking about the church is a huge gift – one I’m both blessed and humbled to receive.
But tonight, I’m just tired.

Meanwhile as I finally got around to catching up with some of what is happening out there in the blogosphere I was very intrigued to come across a post entitled Ecclesiological Stockholm Syndrome on the wonderful Ben Myers' Faith and Theology blog
Responding to Halden on doing theology against ourselves, Adam suggests that many theologians have Ecclesiological Stockholm Syndrome: "the twin tendency to idealize and fetishize local church life and to denigrate their own role".
Maybe that explains why we find things so tiring at these international church and theology meetings. I do myself sometimes wonder whether what those of us trying to continue to enliven the institution of the church in Europe suffer from isn't some kind of survivor guilt ... or maybe it's sort of guilt in the face of possible future generations. But then that makes me ask the question, what does an ecclesiology built on guilt, complexes and survivor syndrome look like? It also made me realise how fortunate a church like the French Reformed Church is to insist that its ministers have good theological education - it does mean that there are theologians in the local church setting.
Anyway if you still haven't figured out what Ecclesiology is, don't worry too much, it does seem to have a future. There was even a new journal launched a few years ago with that title.
So what complex or pathology does your ecclesiology suffer from? If you tell me abotu yours I might manage to work out my own...

Memorable encounters

Réforme held a summer competition to write about an encounter and the top three short tales are now available online. Absolutely wonderful and each of the first three are written by women. Find them here, mais bien sûr en français!

Saturday, 17 October 2009

A good death ... ?

I had been going to spend part of these few days in Crete with a friend. At the beginning of September she took her own life.
Others have been writing about suicide recently and the weight of loss and helplessness it leaves behind. Rarely have I felt the weight of a friend's death so clearly as for my friend Suzanne, yet I wouldn't want to claim particular closeness, others were closer, knew her better. I sense it has hit many of us similarly and comes over us in waves. We just miss her dreadfully and we also realise that we are never really going to fully understand, even if some pieces of the puzzle are clearer.

As we met to remember and weep for Suzanne on that first day we learned of her death I offered the whole of this prayer by John Bell which I've posted before:

I will do it only once, Lord,
though my whole life moves towards it.
So I pray for a good death
when the time is right,
when I have finished my business,
when I have come to terms with my mortality.

A "good death" is a term that the founder of the hospice movement, Cicely Saunders, often spoke of. Sheila Cassidy who carries on Saunders' work speaks of "a good death feeding out into society".
Yet it is only some of us in a few privileged societies who will have access to such a good death. So much of what happens as a result of someone dying is desperately painful, messy and difficult, even when they have had good pain management of their final illness. Relationships that were already strained can reach fever pitch, people need time to even dare to find the space and courage to talk about their real feelings.
Yet even as some of the arguments on pain control and caring for the dying being a natural and good thing to do seem to at be being won, it is still hard to push resources towards care and treatment of depression and mental illness. In many ways that would also feed out into society and help to put the issue further up the public health agenda.
Writing about "a good death" also makes me uncomfortable at other levels. I know that if I died tonight my own life is far from in order and that the disorder will make things difficult for those who love me. I've written quite a bit in recent months about Grace Jantzen's idea of us being natal rather than mortal. I'm not sure how this translates into practical theological terms but perhaps it means preparing funerals, wills and writing letters a long time in advance ... though maybe that adds too much of a layer of Calvinistic guilt to everything. Perhaps being able to die a trusting death at whatever time, knowing that one is loved enough for such things to be dealt with is also a natal approach.
And it is such a privilege to even think about a good death as an ideal - for most human beings dying today this will not be the case as disaster, war, tyranny and famine rob them also of that last comfort as of life itself. Perhaps having a good death can never exactly be a human right but human physical and mental well-being and health are definitely questions of justice.

Others have been thinking about different themes linked to the issue of suicide and as a result Kurk Gayle (he is I am delighted to say back on the blog) left the following quote in a comment. It's an extraordinary example of palliative mental health care in extreme circumstance, in any other context I might issue a warning about suffering not being redemptive.

"... Victor Frankl [was] an Austrian neurologist and psychologist who in 1942 was deported to Theresienstadt, a Nazi concentration camp that housed Jews in transit to Auschwitz. While in the camp, and later in Auschwitz, Frankl studied and journaled about his and others' conditions of despondency. He was separated from his wife and lost his parents in the ghetto, yet he still worked to prevent suicide among his fellow prisoners among fellow prisoners. Interfering with suicides was prohibited by Nazi guards, but Frankl whispered in people's ears all the same. The essence of his whispers were that life, even amid the absurdity of human suffering, still had meaning. Suffering, as absurd as it seemed, pointed to a greater story in which, if one would only construe himself [or herself] as a character within, [she or] he could find fulfillment in his [or her] tragic role, knowing the plot was headed toward redemption. Such an understanding would take immense humility and immeasurable faith, a perspective perhaps achieved only in the context of near hopelessness.
Frankl's papers, written after surviving the camps, and even after losing his wife to the Nazis, indicated a philosophical conclusion that misery, though seemingly ridiculous, indicates life itself has the potential of meaning, and therefore pain itself must also have meaning. Contrary to Freud's posit that man[kind]'s greatest pursuit is of pleasure ... For the prisoners Frankl helped in the concentration camps, a chance for survival was increased by a person's ability to dwell in a spiritual domain, a place where the SS could not intrude."
Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, pp 195-96

Friday, 16 October 2009

Of heroes and democracy

This morning over breakfast I decided that I needed to read the historical part of my guidebook to Greece and I'm glad I did. I had commented to a travelling companion last night that I was woefully ignorant about modern Greek history and politics.
Almost 28 years ago to the day, on the eve of PASOK's historic win in the Greek elections, I went to a special screening at Berlin's alliance française of Costa Gravas' film "Z" it made an enormous impression on me. I was in tears and deeply shocked at the end of the film. Only now do I realise that writing the book that inspired it was a real act of creative imagination, about resurrection in a very powerful way. "Z" means "he lives" - the Greek colonels banned much in the way of civil society after they came to power, according to the final credits of the film they also banned the letter Z because it symbolised resistance.
Thinking about all of this made me realise once more how much we take democracy for granted, it is not at all so long ago that this country was having to come out of the pain of military rule. Building up civil society is not easy, so much easier to destroy than to construct, to stifle rather than encourage dialogue and discussion.
As I'm also reading a bit about the Greek gods and heroes while on my short holiday here I've also been thnking about our human need to see virtue embodied in a single individual rather than in groups and collective values - of course we do all need exceptional individuals to look up to but any individual will have faults, will be human. It strikes me that in looking for heroic qualities in leaders we hope that they will do the hard work for us. I can see this in politics, the churches and many organisaitons.
Perhaps in the end a truly heroic leader will share power by motivating others, encouraging responsibility of each for the whole and building up civil society - which even means opposition to such values ...

Word of the day: "chillen"

"And God chilled out" is the title of the brilliant German twitter Bible which the folk at have published in hard copy book form in time for the Frankfurt book fair. I am so looking forward to reading it.
Earlier this year succeeded in a world record attempt of getting the whole of the Bible tweeted in 10 days from the beginning of the Protestant Kirchentag to Pentecost Monday. They managed it with a day to spare. Such a great project and I even managed to tweet a couple of passages in German myself.
The idea is of course not to replace the Bible but to deepen people's encounter with it through giving some passages new meaning in their tweeted version. It's of course not a translation but a poetic interpretation of the Bible. The title is brilliant too - "and God chilled out" for the end of the creation story when God rests. I love the way words get borrowed from one language to another, someitmes changing their meaning.
So when are we going to see an English version of the Bible in twitter? I was talking to a religious publisher in the Netherlands the other day and they are very interested in the idea. The other thing that's great about it is the use of it to build community - of course the many people who took part in the project will also want to buy the book! Twitter is a really interesting tool for building a sense of being part of things together with people at an event.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Anorexic ecumenism or voluptuous ecumenism - what's your profile?

In recent years Bishop Wolfgang Huber chair of the EKD Council in Germany and others have been talking up the idea of a "profile-based ecumenism" or an "ecumenism of profile". I've been thinking about this in relation with some of what I have been hearing at the Faith and Order Plenary Commission meeting over the past week.
I'm still not quite sure that I totally understand what an ecumenism of profile really is nor whether I am convinced that it is really ecumenism. Meanwhile, discussion at Faith and Order often came back to the call to unity, "to call the churches to the goal of visible unity in one faith and eucharistic fellowship," which is so much part of the mandate. In Mary Tanner's paper she also posed the question:

Did the move to convergence methodology mean that we left the comparative method behind without realising its value and the particular contribution it might still make? The latest encouraging impetus in what is called ‘receptive ecumenism’ relies heavily on the comparative, rather than the convergent method.
Is comparative ecumenism more about profile, is profile-based ecumenism about using the wider ecumenical forum to simply say who you are? Do we use convergence and consensus methodologies too easily to gloss over not having bothered to learn about our real differences and possible commonalities?
I suppose I'm concerned about all of this because one of the trends I can see is that churches make more and more demands of the ecumenical space at the same time as being less able or willing to make the same commitment to it - either in terms of time or money - as was once the case. Is the hidden ecumenical goal of some of our churches today a sort of "extra-light ecumenism" : light on commitment, strong perhaps on affirming one's own profile within the forum? I can see that in both of the churches I am a member of - in order to survive in their own contexts churches may choose to promote identity, profile or brand perhaps - but as they do that what happens to ecumenical commitment, which was often quite low on teh agenda in many churches anyway?
In writing I feel I should also say I can see some of this strange dynamic around ecumenism at work in myself as an ordained woman. What does it say about me and my ecumenical commitment that I often feel that if I wore a dog collar I would be taken more seriously in the context I work in?(I have never worn a dog collar except once as a student to a fancy dress party) I suppose if I did that would be my way of showing profile, perhaps what we want and expect from ecumenism is also changing.
So what about voluptuous or fuller-figured rather than extra-light ecumenism? What would it look like - methodologically, practically, theologically? I wonder whether voluptuous ecumenism might try to include a truly interdisciplinary approach bringing together comparative, consensual, prophetic, convergence, receptive and divergence ecumenism into a lively and continually diverse forum where valuing relationships can help us listen, speak truth in love and continue involvement in this transformative conversation. But then I was ever the optimist.
Perhaps what is needed is some form of reconciled relational diversity or as Metropolitan Geervaghese Coorilis said at the meeting a poetic attempt to do ecclesiological and ecumenical work from below. You can read his excellent paper here, in it he focuses on the land struggle of Dalits and Adivasis at Chengara and uses that to challenge a top down form of ecumenism:
[the Faith and Order text] "The Nature and Mission of the Church" is to be congratulated for its philosophical imagianation but needs to be complemented with sociological and poetic imaginations where the text (the Word) takes on flesh and enters the realm of the pain and pathos that the poor and their earth endure.
Which takes me back to Wolfgang Huber who in a recent address to the CEC assembly seemed to be moving from insistence on profile to some ideas about the ecumenical indicative (as opposed to the ecumenical imperative, telling churches what to do). This makes me think that somewhere along the line the conversations we are having with one another are more transformative than we perhaps realise. Our way of understanding ourselves and other is changing through knowing one another.
So what's your ecumenical profile, extra-light or voluptuous, imperative or indicative, philosophical or poetic, comparative or convergent, exegetical or prophetic, institutional or relational ...
I suppose I just hope that we continue to commit ourselves to looking after the spaces where we can have transformative conversations, perhaps then we will see a transformed ecumenism.

The Orthodox Academy of Crete institute of theology and ecology

On this blog action day I'm at the Orthodox Academy of Crete where there is an institute of Theology and Ecology. One of the aims of the institute is to:
to establish and develop interreligious ecological dialogue (mainly between Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) on the complexity of ecological problems of the Mediterranean and to formulate together and accept an ECOLOGICAL CHARTER OF THE MEDITERRANEAN with basic ethical principles and mutual affirmations for a long range cooperation toward ecological protection of the Mediterranean.

I'm impressed to see that the OAC's commitment to sustainable development of Crete and the wider Mediterranean also goes back quite some time. It is only by people getting involved locally in this long-term way - for our lifetimes and for beyond our lifetimes - that we can begin to have a global impact. With climate change the local really is global.
I shall spend part of today sitting in the Cretan sunshine looking at the sea and reading the book which the academy has produced. It has a fascinating selection of essays from many different contexts on Environmental Theology and Environmental Ethics. The Academy is also promoting a photocompetition to protect beautiful wild plants in Europe. Find out more here.
What are you doing for blog action day?

Climate change, me, the world and ringing bells 350 times

On this blog action day on climate change I'm in Crete. It's an island, you can get here by boat or by plane. In the five days before I got here I took six different planes. Not something I'm proud of at all. Also not very enjoyable as I am not fond of airports or planes. When I travel in Europe I try really hard to organise myself to take the train, but sometimes circumstances just don't allow for that. I should doubtless try harder. Just like I should get around to fitting a timer to our central heating (though as this isn't working at all and it's minus 1 in the morning in Ferney so Dr B may feel the repair is more important than the timer), sorting out the wormery making sure I turn gadgets and lights off when not in use, eating less meat and doing a carbon audit of the house ... sometimes it's difficult to continue to motivate yourself, feel part of the bigger picture and know that together we really can make a difference to climate change. In fact only together can we make a difference.
However, as a rich woman in the privileged West I have more responsibility to try and change my lifestyle if our planet is to survive sustainably for generations to come, I need to feel more challenged.
The international organisation I work for has a long history of campaigning on climate change - going back to a time when it was seen as a pretty marginal issue. This year as the Copenhagen negotiations approach the World Council of Churches alongside is planning a creative way of church bell ringing to try to draw attention to the need for all of us to take action, you can get involved too on December 13th - use blog action day to spread the message:

At 3 p.m. – marking the end of a high profile ecumenical celebration at the Lutheran Cathedral in Copenhagen, the Church of Our Lady – the churches in Denmark will ring their bells, and Christians around the world are invited to echo them by sounding their own bells, shells, drums, gongs or horns 350 times. We envisage a chain of chimes and prayers stretching in a time-line from the Fiji Islands in the South Pacific – where the day first begins and where the effects of climate change are already felt today – to northern Europe and across the globe.
You can download the logo pictured here to use for posters and local campaigning and also translate some of the material for use in your local context, there's information about the campaign in German, French and Spanish on the site - Finnish and Danish are also available. Let the WCC Climate change desk know that you are going to take part in this event and send them any prayers or liturgical material you develop.
Ringing the bells is a wake up call, are we ready to hear, ready to change the way we live? Am I ready to do that or do I encourage others to take action without bothering to do much myself?

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

In the company of strangers ...

Susan Durber preached a thought-provoking and very profound sermon at the closing prayers of the Faith and Order plenary yesterday evening. It's always a challenge to preach at the end of a theological consultation, but this sermon really took up and echoed the issues that had been discussed but in a different tone. It drew everything together wonderfully. Here's an extract from the beginning:

It is firmly in the tradition of our faith, and it is firmly rooted in our experience, that Christ comes to us in the company of strangers.
But, central though this insight is, we keep forgetting it. And we cling very hard instead to our friends, to those who are like us and whom we like, in the hope that we will find Christ there. In an uncertain world, and in places and communities where diversity can seem sometimes not to be aesthetic decoration, but rather hovering threat, we cling to those we know and love well, instead of being turned towards those who are strange to us and to whom we are strange. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that this can’t be good for us. It can’t be good for ecumenism, for the mission of the church, for inter-faith dialogue or for the peace of the world, or indeed for any kind of human flourishing. But the truth keeps returning to us - in the way of things, or perhaps the ways of God.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Language and justice

Canon John Gibaut made a plea from the podium on Monday morning asking English mother tongue speakers to "slow down" and try to avoid using colloquialisms. Nevertheless we have still had only two feisty francophones who have spoken from the floor and only two papers in a language other than English (Spanish) from the podium. I would say that 80% of those speaking from the floor were English mother tongue. They feel more at ease making short and longer comments and even in the group work I am occasionally surprised by how difficult it is for those of another language to break in to the conversations.
At the excellent Africa regional meeting over the weekend, the issue of language was also raised.
It is of course usual for international conferences of all kinds to be in English and yet I feel that there is a need to be rather more proactive in terms of saying things like non-anglophones will be given priority at the microphones.
The real contrast to the use of language in the plenary sessions came at evening prayer where several Asian languages were used for extemporary prayers and readings, a glimpse not of Babel but of Pentecost.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Uncontainable outcomes

Canon John Gibaut who is director of Faith and Order gave a very encouraging address to the plenary commission in Crete as it began its work and one phrase he used has particularly stuck with me. John spoke first of the expected outcomes of the meeting but then he turned to what he termed "uncontainable outcomes":

There will be many outcomes that are both uncontrollable and unpredictable, the gifts of theHoly Spirit to us and to the churches through our prayer, work, fellowship and pilgrimagestogether this week. I call these “uncontainable outcomes”, and there is no place for such categories in the WCC reporting mechanisms.
As what we still refer to as the ecumenical movement becomes more institutionalised it was good to be reminded of those unexpected, uncontrollable outcomes that are actually a fruit of healthy discussion, disagreement and debate. One of the memories I shall take from this meeting is walking through the Orthodox Academy of Crete while participants are meeting for morning prayer in various rooms in their discussion groups. They all follow the same basic outline and Bible reading but they also choose different songs and music. It's very moving to hear one group singing in Spanish while in a different space another group is saying the Lord's prayer in multiple languages. This early morning prayer and Bible study also feeds into the work in uncontainable ways, feeding people's reflections.

The concept of uncontainable outcomes also spoke to my recent musings on the creative age and the idea that in the knowledge based economy we need to learn to value relationships, processes, meetings and much more that is intangible and yet essential in life. On Sunday evening some participants at the meeting joined in the Cretan dancing - another uncontainable outcome as people returned to the Academy last night saying "we danced!" Is there a better statement than that to be able to make at a theological meeting?
The Lord of the Dance is also the Lord of un containable outcomes.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Asbo Jesus's take on things ...

Sorry but this cartoon from the inimitable ASBO Jesus did make me smile this evening!

The Eucharist - the feast of liberation

Dr B., who is obliged to follow Faith and Order from the cold and rain of Geneva, decided he wanted to become part of the trans formative conversation: I was very struck, he wrote, when reading Mary Tanner's address to the Faith and Order commission , of her reference to a paragraph in the Baptism Eucharist Ministry document about the Eucharist:

The eucharistic celebration demands reconciliation and sharing among all those regarded as brothers and sisters in the one family of God and is a constant challenge in the search for appropriate relationships in social, economic and political life…All kinds of injustice, racism, separation and lack of freedom are radically challenged when we share in the body and Blood of Christ …As participants in the eucharist, therefore, we prove inconsistent if we are not actively participating in this ongoing restoration of the world’s situation and the human condition.
I had a double take, because just one week ago I was giving an address in Utrecht to mark an ecumenical award to Heino Falcke, the East German theologian who was an inspiration to many of those involved in the peaceful revolution (Photo shows Heino Falcke with the award, and Laurens Hogerink, one of the organizers of the Utrecht event.). In 1972 - 10 years before BEM - Heino Falcke gave a key note address to the synod of the Federation of Protestant Churches in the GDR - "Church for Others" - in which he said the church was called "to be an example of an institution and fellowship in which responsible participation and open and free discussion between different opinions can take place"--a space for "critical debate, a place for free speech, an openness to radical questioning". This address provided the foundation for the the Conciliar Process for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation which played an important role in advance of the GDR's autumn revolution. I ended my address, by drawing attention to the conclusion of Falcke's 1972 address. I had noted how the Conciliar Process had brought together the Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox and Free Churches in the GDR in an Ecumenical Assembly that in early 1989 called for change in the GDR:

.. my comments on the Conciliar Process may give the idea that this was a political undertaking, and indeed it was, in many respects. But it was also a profoundly spiritual movement. Does it not say something of the “Kairos” of that moment, that it was the common search for answers in the context of the GDR to the global threats facing humanity which brought together a never before seen range of churches - Roman Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox and Free Churches? Here I want to end where I began, with Heino Falcke’s speech in Dresden in 1972, with a passage at the very end that is not often quoted in contemporary historical documents but which in a sense also captures the essence of the Conciliar Process. Heino Falcke is referring to the Lord's Supper:

The Lord's Supper is the feast of liberation ... In the Lord's Supper the freedom that Christ distributes is realized in community. At this table, even the inadequate disciples are accepted. At this table everyone has come of age. They are called together by the love that transcends borders and unites that which has been divided. It is the meal of the suffering Lord who is in solidarity with the oppressed, and the meal of the one who has risen, who sends us to renewed action. It is the meal of the Lord who is to come, and a foretaste of the realm of freedom in the very midst of history.
Maybe this 1972 speech was also a foretaste not only of the peaceful revolution of 1989 but also what BEM had to say about the Eucharist.

Mary Tanner and "transformative conversations" at Faith and Order

I was very struck by the term "transformative conversations" in Mary Tanner's presentation to the Faith and Order plenary this week, it touched a chord at all sorts of different levels.
As we began to think about the different ways that revalue an ecumenism of relationship it was good to hear someone who had truly gone through transformative conversations about feminism and ecumenism and can talk openly and honestly about the long term transformation that brought about in her - and how having similar conversations with many others across the churches transforms thinking, relationships and structures. One way in which such conversations truly have transformed the way Faith and Order does its business became clear in Crete yesterday at the women's lunch where there was not enough room for all of the women to sit down. It was a great moment of celebration and strategising. I wasn't able to be at the lunch for long but just long enough to hear Dame Mary talking about being at a WCC meeting in the early 1970s where she was challenged by Letty Russel and asked whether she'd had her consciousness raised. It was great to even imagine what it must have been like for an English academic to be buttonholed in that way by some of the early US feminists. It was challenging enough for her to get involved in the process that led to the WCC's decade of the churches in solidarity with women.
Just over a month ago, Mary Tanner, Ofelia Ortega and Bernice Powell Jackson "three women who serve as presidents of the World Council of Churches have expressed "considerable concern and great disappointment" about the lack of women in senior staff leadership positions in the world's biggest church grouping". A sign that the fruit of and need for transformative conversations is ongoing.
In recent years I've been really interested by the World Cafe methodology, the idea that having a conversation with someone can be transformative is of course very attractive to anyone like me interested in pastoral ministry, teaching or just talking! Here's a quick rather aspirational quote from the World Cafe blog:

Nurturing conversations uses all of me,
my full humanity. . . .
And in living true to self, in being real,
I become a clean vessel, for great wisdom
to flow through, illuminating others.

I like the way that ideas around transformative conversations offer the possibility to integrate seemingly high faluting ideas like pedagogy, feminism, literacy etc. into something as everyday and straightforward - yet I suppose also dangerous - as a conversation. It's a brilliantly subversive but simple idea and great for someone like me who loves listening to, monitoring and having conversations. Thinking about this has made me realise that blogging has become for me a sort of transformative conversation, a way of saying things and listening to things differently.

And finally for now, another chord that was struck when I heard the phrase transformative conversations was the wonderful energising book by Theodore Zeldin called An intimate history of humanity. Each chapter begins with a conversations with a woman in France and uses that as a point of departure to go in all sorts of fascinating directions. The title of chapter 2 is even "how men and women have slowly learned to have interesting conversations".

Looking at the Wikipedia entry for Zeldin also brought this fascinating idea to my attention, it's called the Feast of Strangers and marked Zeldin's 76th birthday, a fabulous idea!

it is a feast like no other, where instead of food, the menu consists of topics of conversation. People from all walks of life - from different countries, religions, sectors, industries and from across the political spectrum are invited to get together to help Zeldin celebrate his birthday and discover who we really are.Going beyond Big Brother banter or inane chit-chat about the weather, The Feast’s ‘Conversation Menu’ lists topics and questions through which people can discover what sort of person they were meeting, to go beyond superficial impressions such as appearances, nationality and political or religious persuasion, and discover their views on universal themes such as curiosity, friendship or fear and ways of living, such as man’s relationship with the natural world and visions of the future. "The great mystery of our time is what goes on in people's heads," said Zeldin.
So now of course I have ideas for a worship version of this where such transformative conversations would end of course with a picnic eucharist where the feast of strangers could become the feast of pilgrims ...

So what transformative conversations have you had?

More blogging from Crete - by a Presbyterian based at a Roman Catholic University

My friend Aimee Moiso is also blogging from Crete - find out more here.
Aimee has written movingly about her own ecumenical journey and evolving understanding of unity in posts like this one from which the following:

In junior high, I remember arguing naively with a Lutheran friend over politics, and I had a vague understanding that her church had something to do with the side she took. In high school, there were Christians with whom I disagreed about the Gulf War and Oregon ballot measures about homosexuality. I had a Greek Orthodox friend down the street who celebrated Easter on a different day than I did, but I didn’t really know why.

while traveling in Europe with other students and attending Mass at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, I remember a stark moment of indecision – as Protestants should we receive Eucharist or not? Some of us went forward, others didn’t. I have never forgotten that moment of uncertainty – am I welcome here? – though, oddly, I have forgotten how I responded to it.

Church division is historical, doctrinal, theological, social, cultural, racial. It’s about tradition and power and preference and conviction and interpretation and change and revelation. But what's undeniable is that division is always personal. It slices you from me, and it it separates us and them.

As well as offering her own insights, Aimee is also giving a good summary of the plenary discussions which helps you get a better idea of some of what is going on here in Crete.

So who to you think should have been awarded the nobel peace prize?

Twenty years ago thousands of people in East Germany took the courageous step of going on to the streets of the oppressive country where they lived. They changed things, their example gave others elsewhere in Eastern Europe the courage to do likewise and the map of Europe was redrawn. Those ordinary people changed things completely, showed enormous courage and acted peacefully. Today most of them are living very ordinary extraordinary lives yet together they changed the political, cultural and social landscape.
In our celebrity obsessed age, it would have been nice to see ordinary people power celebrated by the nobel peace prize. But perhaps the prize they got was to have been part of it at the time and to know that they were there.
Who do you think should have got the nobel prize for peace this year?

Signs of the ecumenical times - are we really in the age of creativity?

At the Bossey seminar on signs of the ecumenical times - is it really only just 8 days ago - one of the younger speakers reacted to me floating ideas about how the unity in diversity model of ecumenism had real possibilities to speak to people in the postmodern world. He put forward rather the idea that in the post-postmodern world we are now in "the creative age" and this has given me much to ponder on on my (far too many) long journeys taken since that conversation. It has also been at the back of my mind as I listen to the papers and discussions at the Faith and Order plenary commission this week.
Googling the term the creative age led me to this quote from DEMOS "As a knowledge-based economy emerges, economic and social value is created not just by what we know but by whether we apply our knowledge creatively." More from DEMOS here and another useful article here.
Liturgically and interms of community building I am fascinated by some of the ideas I'm picking up from "messy church", fresh expressions and craftivism. I also know that in the ecumenical context less is often more where liturgy is concerned. Liturgy is one place where creativity can be expressed in ecclesial contexts, but the age of creativity is much more about bringing ideas to fruition, about vision, passion and commitment being the key elements in bringing about lasting and meaningful change. Projects come to fruition not simply by the effort of will or money but because of the energy those commited to them are able to generate.
Listening to the papers these past two days I've realised that I can sense a shift in the tectonic plates theologically and ecumenically. I can see too that it might have to do with the emergence of the creative age - though I imagine not all of us are privileged enough to live in the creative age together. The repeated affirmations this week that the process is as important as the substance and the language, that relationships and reconciled conciliarity offer many possibilities for finding the way forwards ecumenically. At some point I also really want to return to Mary Tanner's brilliant taking up of the idea of "transformative conversations". That surely is a sign that we could be in a creative age - after all these thoughts on the age of creativity came about because of a conversation that even if not exactly transformative was certainly challenging and very though-provoking.

"Creativity requires whole-brain thinking; right-brain imagination, artistry and intuition, plus left-brain logic and planning."
However, any kind of creativity certainly requires one thing and that is sleep and I think I should try and get some right now!

Friday, 9 October 2009

Relationships and attitude are where it's at for the future of ecumenical theology

The stranzblog is currently attending the Faith and Order plenary commission of the World Council of Churches in Crete. I'm interpreting into French so I get to listen to all of the papers and discussions in plenary which is fascinating - though of course as some of it is coming out of my mouth in another language not all of it really goes in and stays put!
One striking thing already is that there is a new emphasis on relationships and developing an ecumenical attitude as values in themselves, not separate from the actual content of doctrinal discussions and dialogue but integral to them. The WCC general secretary elect Olav Fykse Tveit set the tone for this when he briefly addressed the Plenary Commission yesterday, wondering aloud about proposing a third pillar of relations to the existing pillars of Faith and Order. He also challenged the members of the plenary commission to focus not only on developing responses texts, but rather on finding expressions of the church’s oneness in daily life, in order to make a credible and strong common witness in words and deeds. (Tveit will take up office on January 1st and was a member of the Plenary Commission before his election.)
This morning we had a series of fascinating papers from Finland, South Africa, Cuba and China. In the brief comments following each paper I already began to sense that we are moving towards this more relational, less textually based yet perhaps more holistic approach.
Will write some more later about Minna Hietamäkki's paper which developed this.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Sad news of the death of Fred Kaan

At the party for my mother on Sunday I learnt that Fred Kaan was very ill. On Monday when we arrived in Geneva we learnt that he had died.
Along with the minister of my local congregation David Marsden, who also died earlier this year, Fred was a very inspiring influence to me as I groped my way towards candidating for the ministry. He took time to come and visit me for a whole morning when I was in my late teens and I can still recall very clearly - almost physically - that energising and Spirit-filled conversation. When he left I turned my favourite French songs up really loud on the stereo and just sang louder and louder.
Because of him I went to work in Berlin in the children's home at the Johannesstift and learnt German - one of his sons had worked there earlier. Because Fred translated the book I also read Bärbel von Wartenburg Potter's "We shall not hang our hearts on the willows". Because of Fred I also learnt that my heroes are not perfect people. When he left his first wife it was hard for some people to go on singing his hymns.
My ordination took place at around that time, more than 12 years after our initial conversation - while he was feeling rather at odds with the institutional church. He wrote me a wonderful letter with a great self portrait sketch and a promise to toast my health in Polish vodka. He also said that he wished me a career of ecumenical service, not one of glory but to know what it is to bear the burden of witness inside and outside the church. Until today I had completely forgotten that and I give deep felt thanks for it and for him taking my vocation and my languages seriously. He would like it I think that I tell a joke against him quite often when I show visitors around the ecumenical chapel in Geneva.
Rest in peace Fred. I shall toast you here in Crete with some Metaxa. May you rise in glory - the glory of service of course!

Of Bossey, Utrecht, Redditch, Brussels and Crete ... signs of the times and only for use within the church ...

Thursday morning last week began with participation at an ecumenical formation seminar in Bossey to offer some thoughts on signs of the ecumenical times with four other panelists. It was challenging and interesting to think about what is happening ecumenically at both global and local levels. In a future post I'll try to write a bit more about this, for now I'll just say that it was good to be given the opportunity to think outside the box and to listen to colleagues doing the same.
Later the same day we flew (boo, hiss bad for the environment!) to Amsterdam for two nights with friends but mainly for Dr B to give a (brilliant but I am biased) lecture in German at a prize-giving for the wonderfully creative Heino Falcke, the inspiring theologian behind the peaceful revolution in East Germany. It was a moving event, looking back 20 years and beyond to the links between the churches in the Netherlands and East Germany. Again more about this at a later date ... one day when life allows time for blogging again. Laurens Hogebrink who organised the event mentioned one way of being sure that what you wrote would get read in former East Germany. This was to circulate papers with the title "Nur für den innerkirchlichen Dienstgebrauch" - only for professional use within the church - this meant the documents didn't have to get past censors for publication and could be duplicated relatively easily. With this subtitle many texts took on a certain underground atractivity which is difficult to recapture.
I had to smile as I thought about how such a subtitle would in the western context be a complete put off in our age often obsessed with making church messages "attractive" and "acceptable". Is anyone even interested in what goes on within the church today? I'm not even always sure that I am - I'm interested in reading the Bible with other people, in trying to discern what Christ's path might imply for me, in following that way with others. Of course in the GDR the faded duplicated documents behind that anodyne subtitle would sometimes contain some of the most interesting new thinking, radical theology, translations of prayers from other countries, pedagogical material and of course also some pretty boring internal church documents too ... I suppose in that context that medium was also the message. The peaceful revolution had been prepared for in many ways intelectually and theologically for decades beforehand.
From Utrecht we flew once more (yes I know ...) to my mother's 70th birthday celebrations in Redditch where there was a fair amount of joyous chaos and a lot of food and talking. It was also an emotional time, at personal events like this when I don't have the benefit of a pulpit and liturgy I find it very hard to harness my emotions and really say what I want to. I shall have to try and write to my mother extraordinaire and say much of what it was I really wanted to say and somehow couldn't mange to say ... yet of course some things are ineffable, love for those you care about most is one.
And from Redditch onwards to Geneva via Brussels (and airport chocolates), a leaving party for the wonderful Linda Hartke, learning with sadness that our inspiring friend Fred Kaan had died and then setting off on a plane (again!) for Crete and the Faith and Order Plenary Commission which is meeting in the Orthodox Academy not far from Chania.
Writing all of this is a very roundabout way of apologising for not blogging for the past week.