Wednesday, 31 March 2010

'God must be in the detail, not the devil!' - a guest blog

Dr. B writes, "Happiness writes white. It does not show up on the page" - this quotation from Henri de Montherlant opens a book that arrived today from an order earlier this month from Amazon: Notes on Book Design by Derek Birdsall.People of my generation, even if they have not heard of Derek Birdsall, will probably have come across his work, as he designed covers for Penguin Books from 1960 to 1972. It was splendid to leaf through his notes on designing books, with examples of his works over the past five decades or so. One of the most interesting sections, however, is his illustrated account of designing "Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England", the new liturgy book introduced at a service at Westminster Abbey in November 2000. Birdsall was commissioned only in October 1999, so he was working on a tight schedule, and he relates a fascinating account of the decisions he made on typeface, margins and layout.

As a clear distinction was required between the words spoken by the priest, the congregation, and the instructions, the ideal typeface would have equally clear distinction between the roman, the bold and the italic. Early research showed Gill Sans to be by far the clearest ...
He also explains how "Common Worship" came to be the size it is - it had to be long enough for the Nicene Creed to fit on one page (as below), but the most important thing, a priest said during informal "market" research by Birdsall's collaborator John Morgan in a local church, "was to be able to hold the book in one hand and a baby in the other".

(Morgan has posted a PDF about the design process of "Common Worship" here, which shows the care that went into the process - the proofs were sent out to 14 proof-readers - and there was wide consultation for which one response was, "God must be in the detail, not the devil. This is surely true of typography, as much as theology or anything else.")

Almost at the last minute, Birdsall was inspired to form a cross from the book's title, and he also insisted on the use of the word "All" (which the selection panel was ready to drop) before the words in bold for the congregation: "Setting 'All' out in the margin and in red further clarifies the structure, is comforting to those people not familiar with Church services, and adds sparkle to the page."
Birdsall's notes on design also contain reflections on the craft of the designer, for which the last words (on the back cover) are from Logan Pearsall Smith: "The test of a vocation is the love of the drudgery it involves."

Sarah Coakley and my desire for theology

Later this year the first volume of Sarah Coakley's systematic theology will be published, God, Sexuality and the Self: An Essay 'On the Trinity' it sounds fascinating I am looking forward to buying and reading it. For the past week I have been trying to decide whether or not to be completely crazy and try to attend to the Sarah Coakley and the Future of Systematic Theology symposium taking place in Sidney in July. It's not going to work for me I fear and I'm a bit sad about that because it sounds extraordinarily exciting. Read more on Ben Myers blog here.
Anyway you can hear Coakley's inaugural lecture"Sacrifice Regained: Reconsidering the Rationality of Christian Belief" at Cambridge here.
My crazy idea about going to Sidney was in some ways an expression of my need to nourish the mind, to nourish my theology and to continue to grow theologically. It's so easy to get stale and I get terribly bored by listening to myself saying the same thing again and again.
Anyway I've got plenty of reading matter - including some Sarah Coakley, so instead of desiring a theological experience perhaps I'd better just get on with doing some of the hard graft!

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Betrayal ...

It's a week for thoughts on passionate elemental themes. Manoj Kurian led prayers in the ecumenical centre this morning and encouraged us to think about betrayal.
I realised that the end of Christ's betrayal begins with a kiss, Judas delivers Jesus to the authorities using a kiss of greeting. Does betrayal matter? It is certainly a powerful word and emotion, a feeling most of us will encounter in some way in our lives.
I got lost in thought this morning about the pettiness of much that we think of as betrayal, yet also the deep personal pain that is caused by lying, adultery and simply not bothering to stand up for others when they are under fire.
Then I got to wondering who and what I have betrayed in my life ... of course I cannot think particularly of anyone or anything as I write this. I am clear minded enought to realise this doesn't at all mean that I am a person of exemplary integrity, quite the reverse. I am aware I am not even a person who always tries to do the right thing. My betrayals often begin not with a kiss but with good intentions of some kind - or intentions I like to think of as good ... I want to believe that I am driven by the idea of what is right ... is that what it was like for Judas?

I am useless - but this is a joyful post!

I have been thinking about how utterly useless I am over recent days. Because I am an ordinary self-doubting human being (and female to boot) this happens regularly (at 15 minute intervals most days!). However, on Wednesday evening last week I realised that I had overstepped the limits of normal uselessness (or should that be usual uselessness?) and become not just virtually or practically useless but actually useless. As things go this is hardly progress ...
After a difficult day I came home to my husband who said "there's been a phone call from Lyon for you." I went pale and felt rather sick ... I knew what was coming.
About six months ago I agreed to take a service in Lyon - didn't write it on the calendar, there'd be time to talk about arrangements later. Then of course Stephen's illness happened and I've sort of lost three months ... until the phone call I hadn't realised just how much this was the case.
So I had to face up to saying no sorry I can't do this, to letting people down, to feeling horribly guilty, to asking colleagues to step in for me, to trying to find a way of getting up at 5.0am on the morning that the clocks went forwards and getting to Lyon and blah and blah and more encounters with my virtual, practical and actual uselessness.
I hate forgetting things and letting people down and I've had some unpleasant hours over the weekend worrying about it, thinking about a last minute sermon, then just accepting that I wouldn't be going and worrying about whether they had found someone as I hadn't heard anything back from them.
A Monday night phone call from Lyon brought me solace - it had all been fine, they'd found someone easily, but my contact person had been away for the weekend!
So this has been an interesting exercise in realising my own limits and being a little less disorganised; in asserting my own needs to spend time with my husband; in recognising I am not at all indispensible. Sometimes I really must let go of things rather than trying to do more.
And you know what, something strange happened on Sunday evening - even before the phone call from Lyon - I felt as if a weight was lifting, a much bigger weight than that of my uselessness. Perhaps it was the weight of my striving and desire to be effective and efficient, perhaps it was the weight of being perfect or always saying yes. Anyway I realised that I am simply a brilliantly useless human being, just like everyone else: virtually, practically, actually and brilliantly useless.
Psalm 139 would put it rather differently, saying "I am fearfully and wonderfully made".
So I am frustratingly, brilliantly and joyfully useless. And that's good because as the weight lifted I had my first decent night's sleep in about three weeks. Wonderful.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Are Christians making any difference?

We are praying this week for the peoples and churches in Brunei, Singapore and Malaysia. As Holy Week begins our colleague Dr Manoj Kurian prepared a liturgy for which he wrote music for a Malaysian version of the Orthodox acclamation of the gospel - using the in recent times much contested word "Allah" to refer to the trinitarian Christian God.
In his sermon on the suffering servant from Isaiah Manoj asked us whether the more than two billion Christians in today's world were making any real difference. "We conform so often to what Christ was against rather than try to find new ways to transform society". Just like the people who celebrated Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, we need to ask ourselves what kind of Messiah we are expecting, just a new king who'll sort out all our problems or someone working to a different set of rules, a new system of renewed relationships as opposed to the systems of the world that push the poor to the margins.
Manoj went on to plead that to follow the way of Christ the suffering servant we we should see our service as part of our worship and see God in each other.
So are we Christians making a difference or would the world be just the same without us?

The deep links between the liturgy and our advocacy and engagement

As Holy Week begins so Seven Weeks for Water offers a final Lenten meditation. This week Canon John Gibaut who is director of the Faith and Order Commission brings things together by focusing on the Easter Vigil and looking at how reflecting about water liturgically can also nourish our engagement and advocacy about water as a human right.
Holy Week is the week that remembers on Maundy Thursday Christ washing his disciples feet; Lent is the time that traditionally prepared people for baptism. To be a disicple, to be a Christian is be a person of faith willing to follow, willing to step forwards. As we understand the spiritual meanings of water more we can also find deep and real resources to nourish and "water" our commitment to working for water justice at global and local levels.
Here's an extract from John's meditation from this week:

What the Christian community says and does around water in prayer—the water of Baptism, the Baptism of the Lord, the Blessing of the Waters at the Theophany, the example of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, and all liturgical uses of water in public prayer—has profound implications for Christian understanding and awareness of water today. That we use water in prayer—and how we use it, and how much of it we use—has consequences. The Christian community’s liturgical use of water has the potential to be a rich source of theological reflection about what water is, and about the care with which it is used. The degree to which Christians experience the holiness of water in prayer will also contribute to the churches’ engagement with other faith communities, governments, environmentalists, and with all who thirst for a just and ethical use of water today.

Generosity - it's a management concept!

Interesting academic article on generosity as a management strategy here. It's all about counter-intuitive generosity very interesting - here's an extract:
if a manager practices counterintuitive generosity — that is, the worse things get, the better he treats his staff — he gets rewarded with employees who are loyal, engaged, and willing to slog through the mud with him.
It's interesting to see that many of these virtuous terms: forgiveness, generosity, integrity, are prized in good leadership and management. They are also often prized in the new social networks and software developments and social networks.
More on this when I get a chance.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

The language collector - save the world's languages

There is a good article by Mark Turin in the latest CAM magazine called the Language Collector which charts the challenges of trying to record and collect some of the world's languages before they disappear. He tells of his work in Nepal where he has been learning Thangmi - a language which was until recently not only endangered but also almost undescribed. You can read the full article on page 24 of the magazine (pdf here).
Turin is part of the World Oral Literature Project which has a website with links to good resources, lectures and further reading on how to protect and collect the disappearing langauges and oral literature of the world. Turin will also be making a contribution to the Cambridge ideas series on youtube from mid April, something to lok out for.
In the CAM article he gives a good defence of calling the oral narratives of languages and cultures "literature". Great literature does not have to be either written or printed to be great or literary. In oral cultures the reliance is on human beings speaking the language and learning the literature across the generations, the people their tongues and memories are themselves the living literature ... but if there are no people speaking the language any more then the story will be lost and the narrative of literature will not go on.

A creative commons Bible translation in German

Wolfgang Loest is one of the initiators of a brilliant creative, ecumenical online project to make two new creative commons translations of the Bible into German. The "Offene Bibel" idea is that there needs to be an online version of the Bible in German available to people and the churches that is not subject to copyright like the 1984 Luther translation.
The idea is to work on both a translation into modern everyday German and offer a study translation which would be closer to the sentence structure of the original biblical languages. And this online translation would be crowd-sourced - not a translation by a few professional translators but any Christian from whatever tradition who knows how to translate from Hebrew and Greek can participate. The project came about as a result of a conversation at last year's Bremen Kirchentag.
You can follow the progress of the translation here and read an interview with Loest about the details of the project here.
The association to support the project should be launched officially at the barcamp kirche 2.0 event in Frankfurt, if enough people turn up. I really hope it gets off the ground, crowd-sourcing an ecumenical Bible translation is a brilliant idea.

Forgiveness in systems

Recently I found myself talking about how for trust to be developed people need to face up to what has happened in the past, learn to say sorry and also try to explain. I thought about this again as I watched a programme about Desmond Tutu on truth and reconciliation. So I eneded up looking at things that have been written on forgiveness in systems. I was fascinated to discover that forgiveness in systems is a concept in social system design and computing. I think I rather like the idea of a forgiving computer system!
Without forgiveness it is hard for individuals groups or systems to more forwards, hard to work for the future without being disproportionately weighed down by the past. I've seen this at work in local churches, families, workplaces and communities. It is never easy to say sorry, yet without it things get stuck and forgiveness cannot even begin. It is long term hard work, yet without it community cannot be built on decent foundations.
Anyway below are some quotes I found helpful and thought-provoking from one of the other things I came across in my internet browsing on forgiveness in systems from "On the Systems Intelligence of Forgiveness" by Laila Seppä. The article particularly uses the South African truth and reconciliation commission as an example but also looks at individuals like Corrie ten Boom and Coretta Scott King who have come to and then worked at deep understanding of forgiveness. A reminder that for systems to change and become more just it is important for individuals to find prophetic voice.

Miraculously, even when confronted with extreme oppression, there are those very special

individuals who do not submit to it. They have the vision of something better and the willpower to go against the current, which often demands courage. Usually they have to work inside the system, but fortunately they are strong enough to resist.

Systems intelligence is based on a principle of humbleness and optimism for change, which
acknowledges that one’s perspective of others might be drastically mistaken (Hämäläinen and
Saarinen 2006). Beliefs regarding structures produce behaviour and people’s behaviour often
reflects their best guesses of rational behaviour. They can get caught in systems that serve
nobody’s interest and feel helpless regarding their possibilities of changing the system, in this
case apartheid (Saarinen and Hämäläinen 2004). They can even conceal their real thoughts
because they are part of the system of holding back, which means that many of the core beliefs of people do not show up in their action (Hämäläinen and Saarinen
2006). People can feel insecure and as heretics and dissidents are despised by the system they are too frightened to speak up (Tutu 1999, Nouwen 2005, Varto 2005)

To forgive does not mean that you have to forget. It is not hypocrisy and turning your blind eye to the wrong. True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the pain, the truth (Tutu 1999). It means telling what happened, talking about it. Trying to forget by sweeping the past under the carpet means you get trapped with your past. A much better way is to express your hurt: “I will carry the memory of what you have done with me. I will not forget but I refuse to let what you have done stand between us. I refuse to allow it to create a permanent barrier between us. I still want you in my life.” (Carpenter 1998).

Saturday, 27 March 2010

barcamp church and bar camp ecumenism?

Over on the new German Protestant web portal they have loads of great ideas and initiatives - they launched the Twitter Bible in German last year which is great fun and now they're inviting people to a "Barcamp" on churches, social media, web 2.0 and so on. It's taking place in Frankfurt on May1-2 and you can find out more here. I'm really quite tempted to go along.

The barcamp idea sounds fun and makes me wonder about how we could build something similar into our international ecumenical meetings. We've got to find new ways of doing things. These days methods and content need to mesh more clearly. For church bureaucracies and hierarchies these new informal and networked ways of organizing, making decisions and doing things are quite challenging. I still rather like the idea of trying to do barcamp ecumenism, an unconference conference sounds like the sort of thing I'd quite enjoy!

A card, a bottle and proverbial "merci"

I returned to my office one day this week to find a card and gifts on my chair - wine, chocolate and some carefully chosen words. I'm very lucky to have such good friends and colleagues - even luckier for my waistline that several others joined in eating the chocolate. The local organic wine was perfect for Dr B's gentle birthday supper.
On the card was a personal message framed by two proverbs:
"The cleverness of one alone is a shallow well that dries up." (From Uganda)
"Where a woman reigns the streams run uphill." (From Ethiopia)

I've been thinking deeply and painfully this week about how getting human beings to work together is one of the most difficult yet rewarding things. Human beings are social animals yet sharing and being and working together, how our common and uncommon projects evolve is a kind of alchemy that can perhaps only be called a work of the Holy Spirit. Or perhaps it can only be called that if it works. At events and in projects where things and people "gel" something special happens, together we become more than the sum of our parts and when it all works we glimpse something greater than ourselves, the kingdom of God perhaps.
I'm grateful for those moments this week that I have been part of something bigger, moments where a bit of heaven has been opened. Together our intelligence can fill even the driest of wells.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Vulnerability and celebration

Today has been a day of vulnerabilty and celebration. The new ACT alliance was launched at lunchtime with a simple service focusing on the Magnificat and then a screening of the new ACT video (which is fabulous). At the service Olav Fykse Tveit preached on the Magnificat, you can read the sermon here, here's an extract.

The Magnificat has a strong message to us: In the lowest we find the highest. In the smallest we find the greatest. In the most vulnerable we find the power of God. We are called to magnify, for the benefit of those who need it, for the glory of God.
Some of us have had the experience and some of us can experience the great miracle of magnifying the Creator by carrying the life of another person into life. In these days, nine months before the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, we sing the words of Mary with joy and with trembling awe. The vulnerability of life comes so close to us. This was also the reality of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In this vulnerability is the power of life. Here is God the Creator, here is the promise for the future, inside the body of a woman.

Personal tragedy touched members of staff today and we have wept and prayed and sought to find meaning even as we continued with our work ... it has been hard, we have worked and prayed and cried and hugged and celebrated and supported one another, that has been a celebration of the essential vulnerability which is at the heart of our faith but also somehow part of our work and professionalism. Expressing incompression at life's cruelty and tragedy has to be part of faith. I end the day giving thanks yet with tears still falling, knowing deeply that this is how life is ... joy and sorrow, pride and incomprehension, rage and rejoicing, fear and faith.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Water of vulnerability and of liberation

Maike Gorsboth's sermon from yesterday's world water day service is now online. It pays hommage to the thinking of Steve de Gruchy and his Olive Agenda linking creation and liberation ethics.

"Water is more than a symbol ... Water being the source of life makes it much more than 'just' a sacramental symbol or a symbol of liberation. It also makes it a means of liberation."

Over on this week's Seven Weeks for Water there is a powerful reflection by John D. Roth on footwashing and practising the politics of mutual vulnerability.
Jesus was challenging his disciples to cultivate a life of mutual vulnerability rooted in the confidence of God’s extravagant and abundant love. By washing the feet of his disciples, Jesus offered a physical, embodied demonstration of this new kind of politics—a politics demonstrated even more dramatically in his death and resurrection in which power was “made perfect in weakness.”
I'll try to return to some thoughts about vulnerability in a later post. I've been doing some thinking about the issue linked to leadership in recent weeks, not sure where that will take me but foot washing is a challenging model for Christian leaders.

Meanwhile this picture and others of our toilet queue were taken by the WCC's great photographer Peter Williams.

one rhythm one world for the launch of the ACT Alliance

Communications colleagues over at Act alliance are busy with the launch of the new alliance and have made this great video as part of the launch. There's one rhythm, one world and we're all in it together. Better get the beat!

Monday, 22 March 2010

Prayers, art, queueing and singing for world water day

Our brilliant colleague Maike Gorsboth who coordinates the Ecumenical Water Network preached at Monday morning prayers as we marked world water day. In her sermon which will be online tomorrow, she paid hommage to the late Steve de Gruchy and his "olive jordan river agenda" linking creation and liberation. It was powerful, heartfelt and authentic; a really good sermon. Maike also managed to get enough of us to queue for the toilet at lunch time today that we were able to take part in the world record attempt at making the world's longest toilet queue. As we waited in line - we had to be at least 25 people for the queue to be part of the record attempt - we sang songs from the morning's worship and then told funny toilet stories. We also admired Manoj Kurian's brilliant artwork specially painted for the day. You can find photos of artwork and queue here.

World Water Day 2010

World Water Day 2010

Join the world's longest toilet queue for World Water Day

Go to the website of the World's Longest toilet queue and join the queue online. And if you're in Geneva between 12.00 and 12.15 come and join us at the ecumenical centre where we will be queuing in the main lobby.
Make a stand for sanitation and water for all.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

If ...

"If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading"

This came on one of the book marks in my recent book buying attack on our bank account.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Mind the gap ...

When I read Steve Taylor's post defining what leadership is for him today I knew I would have to repost it and of course I knew I knew I wouldn't be able to resist giving this post the title "mind the gap" title from the London Underground. This is how Steve - who teaches mission - currently defines leadership:

"Leadership is being deeply aware of the gap between what is, and what is not yet, and having the courage to attend to the gap."

Minding the gap as a theological and leadership task spoke to me and challenged me. I've been thinking about my own inability to live with emptiness, with the void. As Easter approaches I know that I shall find that challenge there again - the empty tomb at the end of Mark's gospel which causes the women to flee away in fear ... yet perhaps it is only by having the courage to attend to the gap, to the space between, that we can bear witness to the resurrection.

Alfajores for life!

Yesterday our household received a very special "care packet" from Délices du Sud. In it were two kinds of delicious home made jam - strawberry and spiced pear - special "thé de songes" ( the tea of dreams) and some of Gabriella's utterly, utterly irresistible Alfajores pictured here.
There is one left. Stephen is currently upstairs but I suspect he would notice if I ate it - we don't even have a cat I could blame if it disappeared ...
Anyway it's good to have friends who are so generous with their time and thoughtfulness.

1500 posts

I was surprised to discover this week that I wrote my 1500 post on this blog ... I don't really feel as if I've been blogging very long but it has sort of become part of me. Thanks to those of you who read this eclectic barrage of thoughts, campaigns and rants I throw out into the internet ... now for my next post ....

Friday, 19 March 2010

Women's lunch and the women's Haggadah

I squeezed my timetable today to go to a women's lunch that my fabulous colleagues from the womens desks of the LWF and WCC had organised for women from all of the organisations working in the Ecumenical Centre. We were fortunate to have quite alot of the women from the World YWCA with us. It was fun, it was good, it was uplifting and we have projects to make our voices heard within our churches and organisations. Though as I said at the end it is not only about voice it is also about power!
It was a good, creative and straightforward time and reminded me what a special and brilliant place I work in. It's a privilege even if it doesn't always feel like that every moment of every day!

Elaine Neuenfeldt began our meeting by reading this"Song of Questions" from A Women's Haggadah by E. M. Broner and Naomi Nimrod. Looks like I may have to buy this sometime too ... am I the clever, wicked or simple daughter - or a bit of all three?

The Song of Questions

Mother, asks the clever daughter,
Who are our mothers?
Who are our ancenstors?
What is our history?
Give us our name. Name our genealogy.

Mother, asks the wicked daughter,
If I learn my history
will I not be angry?
Will I not be bitter as Miriam
who was deprived of her prophecy?

Mother asks the simple daughter,
If Miriam lies buried in sand,
Why must we remove her from sun and stone?
Where she belongs?

The one who knows not how to question
she has no past,
she can have no future
without knowing her mother,
without knowing her angers
without knowing her questions.

Liturgy for World Water Day

This beautiful picture will be on our service sheets for Monday morning as we mark World Water Day in various ways. You can find the liturgy that my colleague Maike Gorsboth has put together here.

We will also be joining in the World's Largest Toilet Queue at lunchtime in the main lobby. More about that campaign tomorrow.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Passing thoughts on Christ's baptism - on the threshold between the desert and th promised land

I've had a busy, fascinating and interesting day today - ending with supper here at home with friends and great talk about research projects and the globalisation of ecumenism. Dr B is gradually getting better and was able to concentrate on conversation, cooking and having ideas, bringing books down from the upstairs archive - which was great.

Over morning coffee I met with a colleague who will preach for the very first time next Monday on World Water Day. We talked at some length about Christ's baptism and the theme of liberation it represented. In our conversation I mentioned how in Pierro della Francesca's painting of the baptism of Christ, Christ is depicted as standing on dry ground in the middle of the river and it struck me how Christ's baptism in the Jordan clearly places him on the threshold between the wanderings in the desert and the hope of the promised land.
The low place near the dead sea is a liminal place of hope between life and death. Until this morning's conversation it had never struck me like this before. I had never really thought of baptism quite so clearly in terms of liberation, entering into the promised land. It also really came to me in a new way that both the desert and the promised land are places where the Bible tells us it is possible to be close to God - both the nomadic cultures of the desert and the sedentary agriculture of the promised land are places of hope and of challenge. Liberation is possible in both contexts, as we symbolically rise up with Christ from the lowest point on earth we can follow a path of life hope and liberation in either the desert or the city.
The other thought I tried to develop is that the biblical promised land motif is of milk and honey, not of "prosperity for all" (Wohlstand für Alle). Simplicity and sweetness may seem like the promise of great wealth when you've been eating manna and quails but it is not the promise of palaces and huge riches. It is the promise of sustainable agriculture and harvesting semi-tamed wild food.
In the end my colleague chose a different Bible text for Monday's sermon but these sorts of conversations as we try to put together thoughts about theology, campaigns, work and liturgy always bear fruit in some way and certainly give us energy.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

What are you doing for world water day?

"Give me water" says Lucy Wambui Wawera over on Seven Weeks for Water this week. It's a moving reflection about a community valuing the importance of baptism by immersion so much that they pay a high amount to buy in water for the ceremony.
Meanwhile the Ecumenical Water Network is preparing a service for World Water Day in the Ecumenical Centre, more about that next week and can find the World Water Day toolkit here. You can also find other ideas and resources for world water day on the EWN site: Christian World Service's World Water Day carbon fast, the Water in the Desert and Water Passion and Betrayal orders of service.
So what will you be doing?
Will you be joining the world's biggest toilet queue?

Christ's trial as a gross violation of human rights

Yesterday morning I led a Bible study on Mark 14 53-65, Jesus' trial before the Sanhedrin. The global Anglican Peace and Justice Network is meeting in Geneva this week and they were looking at the whole area of victim's rights, reparation, reconciliation and much more besides.
Although only asked a few days earlier I felt quite excited by tackling this text and the good thing was that I was able to read bits of Morna Hooker's excellent commentary on Mark again. It was an interesting journey with the text and for once although I prepared quite carefully I didn't really have a full written paper - the disadvantage of that of course is that I'm not entirely sure what I said in the end! I began by doing some rememebred Bible with them about the trial - partly because it helps as part of the group process but also because much of the account of the trial is about how the witnesses don't agree. In terms of violations of human rights believing the witnesses, finding credible witensses is also part of the process ... so it was good to use our remembered Bibles to begin this process. Then we read the text and aloud said one or two words that struck us ... And we looked at the text like a human rights lawyer of activist in terms of due process, proper defence, demonizing the victim and the perpetrators. We also looked at how Mark's account of the Sanhedrin is hardly accurate - what does this almost demonization of the perpetrators say about how we tell the story of the victim? Did Peter really see all of this or had he fled from the scene only to deny Christ moments later?

I also told some stories from my own family - when you are the granddaughter of someone who has been in a concentration camp then issues of violation of human rights are not abstract ideals. I reflected on how because this is a text often read during Holy Week we are somehow already turned towards Easter, towards finding meaning in suffering and transformation through resurrection.

Yet as I left the Bible study and went back up the street to the ecumenical centre I was left with many questions - at the heart of our faith is this story of the violation of the human rights of God's son; is concentrating on this suffering in some way a celebration of the pornography of violence; can there ever be meaning in suffering; how dare we Christians point to the hope of resurrection, transformed societies, reconciliation; how dare we Christians not point to exactly those hopes ...
Perhaps during Holy Week I'll have time to return thinking about these things.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

A poem about me by Ruthann Gill

The Joy of Mess

Jane IS the joy of mess,
and professes she can be no less.
so daily she creates and must confess
to soaring in joy through the mess!

My wonderful and supportive friend Ruthann Gill wrote two short poems about me this week to cheer me up. This first one really made me laugh. Just be glad you are not the one who has to try and find something in my office!

Friday, 12 March 2010

Widowhood ... pain, laughter, sharing - from the story of Tamar to our stories and our mother's and grandmother's stories

Fulata Mbano Moyo led prayers this moring on the theme of widowhood - returning to the theme of her sermon on Monday but with a rather different emphasis. Today we had the rather extraordinary experience of reading the whole of the story of Tamar from Genesis 38. Fulata just shared out the reading paragraph by paragraph with those who happened to be sitting in the row nearest to her- It was strong stuff listening to us in our various accents struggling with lots of strange names and pretty embarrassing subject matter. The story details how the men of one family marry, don't marry but have sex with Tamar, how she has to prostitute herself with great resourcefulness to the most powerful remaining man in her story and how she humbles Judah into saying "She is more in the right than I" once she finally falls pregnant. Her intelligent reading of and acting in the situation finally saves her. However the act of this widow is neverthelss one of desperation, selling her body to her deceased husband's father under the cloak of anonymity.
Fulata once again shared some of her own story of being a widow - how her sons had tried to push her to find them a new father. She encouraged all of us to think about and share stories about widows we knew, to think about who are widows in our societies today ...
During the few moments of our prayers this morning I thought about my extraordianry mother in law who brought up two children on her own; aloud I wondered about the women abandonned by men, left with children - are they in a similar state to biblical widows?
After prayers were over I shared the story of my own mother's widowhood with Fulata, making her laugh. At the end of the day I wrote it down in and shared it via email with those who had been at prayers:

To those of you at morning prayer today, this is the story of a widow I only shared with Fulata at the end - one of the reasons we were laughing - the widow I know best is my mother.
40 days after my father's death she arrived home in the bright red convertible sports car she had just bought ... they had been looking at it together before his death and decided his wheelchair would not have fitted into it ... waiting for her at home when she came back with the car was a package from the undertakers containing my father's ashes.
She decided "he should enjoy the new car too" and placed his ashes in the boot ... and drove with him for quite a while ...
I'm not sure this is a liturgical practice I would recommend (ecumenically or confessionally) but it seemed to help her!
Two other colleagues also shared stories of widowed mothers and grandmothers who had shouldered large family responsibilities alone and done so with great resilience and dignity. Symbols of the strength of widows. Despite desperation the story encourages us to resourcefulness and not to be victims.

Hannah and barrenness - yet we are all fit to bear life ...

On Thursday Jet den Hollander led morning prayer on the story of Hannah, not concentrating for once on the song of Hannah - in many ways taking up again in the magnificat - but focusing more on what precedes the song. The rivalry between the two wives Penninah and Hannah, how Hannah was loved by her husband Elkanah, despite not bearing him children. I was moved as we have been thinking about "Daily Bread" to hear the text about how the husband gave a double portion of the sacrifice to his barren wife. One of the things we know about women from subsistence cultures is that they were/are often simply too thin to conceive, as I heard the text with the focus we have had on food this week I realised how gentle and life-giving this story of the husband feeding his second yet loved wife a double portion was. It was this loving food that helped her conceive in the end.
Jet encouraged us to think about what it means to be forced to think about our lives according to societal norms - taking a companion to a reception if we are married, assuming that people have children, living as a childless person, assuming that men working for church organisations will have partners to take care of children ...
It was powerful to read the prologue to Hannah's song, to think about how women (in this case the two wives) show little solidarity to one another but are caught up in a patriarchal system which means they become cyphers for a male progeny-driven story.
We read the prologue in parts and Jet interspersed the reading with gentle but powerful reflections. She used the text and our own realities to get all of us, women and men - to reflect on our own childfulness or barrenness. It was both powerful and gentle. Perhaps because I am a fruitful woman who is barren of children the prologue to Hannah's story and this reflection spoke deeply to me.
And today I held a tiny baby in my arms - a colleague brought her new born son to work and several of us got to hold him, and folk teased me as they came into the cafeteria - is he yours?
Well no he isn't. However, even without children I bear life as do many others - even if that is harder to point to and affirm. So the question to ask as we read Hannah's story is how do each of us bear life and support the life that others bear?

Thursday, 11 March 2010

20 years ago in the GDR

Dr B has begun to post again both on Holy Disorder (another extract from my diary but also this on a day of anniversaries) and on Open source ecumenism.
What is interesting is that although the fall of the wall took place in November 1989 the real changes were all in 1990. 20 years ago the GDR was preparing for its first free elections and it was clear to me that the CDU would win. On the other side of the world in Seoul, Korea, Stephen was telling Heino Falcke my evaluation of the political situation in the GDR and he really didn't want to believe it.

Her-story, woman story on a Thursday night

Around the large dining table seven women shared their stories, when you talk about your life, about what has brought you to the point where you are now, eating this meal with people you know and don't know, you are never quite sure where it will go ...
And so we experienced some moments of the pure grace of sharing, of laying down our stories next to one another, not in any kind of competitive way just in a way full of simplicity and laughter - full of pain and joy and wonder at where we have come from and where we are going.
There were frightening stories from the 1988 Lambeth conference, before the ordination of women to the Church of England. Anger amongst women was high at the fact that no woman celebrated a eucharist. This story made me wonder again about the institutional violence of the church, the anger that breeds exclusion and hierarchy and sexism.
Sitting around the table were women of the church, from three continents and five countries.
As I listened to our stories I wondered about what it is like to be a woman, believing, belonging and yet also feeling some kind of continual dissonance in the church: this is a place I belong, this is a place where I also deeply don't belong, where I am also excluded from power.
What proportion of male ministers are working for the church on a non-stipendiary basis I wonder?
Yet what also came through in our stories and lives, the hilarity and raunchiness with which we told our tales, is that we are not victims but actors, authors of our stories. Somehow tonight in the telling and retelling we also became co-authors in each others life stories. It was a powerful and life-giving time. A time of grace.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Oil and emptiness as blessings at morning prayer

Elaine Neuenfeldt led our morning prayers this morning by encouraging us to return to Monday reading from the 2 Kings 4.1-7. In that text, to save her sons from being sold into slavery, a widow is told by Elisha to ask all her neighbours for as many empty jars as possible. Behind closed doors the miracle takes place of the small amount of oil she already had being enough to fill every one of the jars she has amassed, sufficient for her to pay off her debts, save her sons and have enough for them all to live on afterwards.
The story is one of healing in community, of ordinary people not offering their richness but their emptiness, their worthless empty jars save lives and buy back fullness of life.
So we listened to the text and reflected on it together. A person who works nearby and comes from Rwanda spoke about how for her the emptiness represents the listening she hopes to receive from her friends and neighbours, yet so rarely do we offer or receive the real emptiness of unjudgemental listening. She also spoke movingly of coming empty to prayer and leaving feeling filled.
Both emptiness and fullness are symbols of blessing.

Coming home this evening my heart was full of song after Holden Evening Prayer and on the bus I ended up reading a few more pages of Sarah Coakley (I was so hooked I missed my bus stop!) all about the complex and vexed problem for feminist theology of kenosis or self emptying. I'll come back to that in a later post but as I finally got off the bus it really seemed that morning prayer and evening home coming were part of the same reflection around fullness and emptiness. Very female themes.

To end our shared reflection this morning we prayed some word by the Brazilian feminist theologian Ivone Gebara inspired by Psalm 63

Vida, ó minha vida

Life, o my life
love, o my love
meaning, o my meaning
you dwell in me and I seek you without ending.

All my being thirsts for you
as dry earth thirsts for water
as the wanderer in the night hopes for the rising of the sun
As the pilgrim longs for coming home
likewise, I seek you at work and at rest
in joy and in sorrow.

Earlier, I was amazed by your majesty and you mystery in the sanctuaries of stone,
I praised your glory and honour on my knees.
Today, I seek you in the depth of my being and
in the gestures of tenderness that expand the earth,
I seek you in the laughing of children and in the grass that grows in the fields.

to seek you like love and justice gives meaning to my life,
for that I praise you
Every small gesture of compassion gives me joy,
and your mysterious presence is embodied in my body
My remembrance teaches me your faithfulness.

When I lay in my bed I remember you,
I meditate many hours on you
The darkness of the night is turned into light in my heart.
In many moments you have been my help, consolation and hope in the midst of many pains.

The powers of death threaten us, but they will not be victorious.
In the depth of the earth dwells life
And life will continue to bring forth new hopes and seeds of love, for ever.

Life, o my life
love, o my love
meaning, o my meaning
you dwell in my and I shall seek you without ending.

Confessing to book buying: poetry, detective fiction and feminist theology

Each day when I come home this week there has been another book - sometimes two - waiting for me. I had a bit of a splurge a week ago on some theology and detective fiction over at the Book Depository. Truth to tell there's also been a bit of Olav Hauge's poetry in the packages, the poems have added great lightness to my day as I catch the overcrowded bus in the morning. Short enough to never lose the plot.
Meanwhile today a second book arrived with some writing by the theologian Sarah Coakley ( a first had come earlier in the week - yes this really was a splurge!). If I hadn't got so into blogging I might not know of Coakley's work and I'm looking forward to reading the various essays and articles in Power and Submissions - Spirituality, Philosophy and Gender. So far I am only half way through the prologue but it is briliant and thought-provoking stuff. Coakley outlines how both neo-orthodox and post-liberal (male) theologians have

"effected a new valorization of Christic "vulnerability", an admission of divine self-limitation and exposure in the face of human cruelty. Rather than deflecting human weakness, this trend has embraced it - even into the trintarian heart of God. Submission has become paradoxically identified with divine "power".
Yet for the feminist theologian ... this highly prized tactic has proved double edged; indeed the question of power and submission has become yet further fraught in the light of this popular male theological strategy. For how can the call for the liberation of the powerless and oppressed, especially of women, possibly coexist with a revalorization of any form of "submission" - divine or otherwise? Precisely as male theology has wallowed in a new adulation of "vulnerability" and "receptivity" (perhaps aiming - consciously or unconsciously - to incorporate a repressed "femininity" into its dogmatic system), feminist theology has emerged to make its rightful protest."
This is the sort of theology that reads almost as well as one of the well-translated Scandinavian crime novels that are also arriving as a result of my splurge. More from Coakley in weeks and months to come I hope.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Is it feminism or sexism that is alive and well?

As soon as I saw this over on the ever splendid ASBO Jesus I knew I wouldn't be able to resist posting it. It's been interesting to go back to it a few days after seeing it originally and read the discussion about feminism in the comments.
There are so many pre-conceieved ideas around what feminism is. Part of me is sad that feminism has such a bad press, but in the end it's about getting the message across about equality and dignity for women. For the vast majority of poor women across the world it is not about discussions about who does the housework, but about access to education, healthcare and a decent life. These poorest women are growing much of the world's food, working hard at home and beyond the home, they often live in situations of extreme vulnerability and are not seen as equal citizens. In the end for me feminism is about passionately believing that women deserve as much dignity as men. Of course women are not better than men. Of course men are not better than women.
A cartoon like this one reminds me that I am hugely privileged - to have access to work, to live with a man who values me as an equally flawed human being (of course we do sometimes disagree as to who is more flawed but that's just married life!), to have leisure to reflect on the meaning of life rather than to worry where the next meal will come from or whether the next bullet, bomb or rape will be for me. In the end feminism for me is about saying my (perhaps seemingly petty) struggles are not unrelated to greater and more important struggles by women in many places. How societies view, judge or value women has a direct impact on ordinary women's lives. I'm trying to play my own small part to make sure that feminism stays alive and remains fun as well as feisty.
Meanwhile if anyone seriously believes that sexism is dead I would encourage you to watch some of the videos on the Lenten campaign to overcome violence against women.

"Sexual and gender-based violence shreds the very fabric of society" said Dr Manoj Kurian, WCC programme executive for Health and Healing. "While it undermines the physical and psychological health of people, it also questions the integrity of our life and faith. We have no illusions that these problems will be easily solved. Our aim with the study is to encourage our churches and communities to examine these often unspoken and unrecognized acts of violence, so as to address the root causes. We also encourage churches and communities not to use theology selectively nor hide behind cultural tenets to defend such violence. It is only by acknowledging the pain and the ongoing hurt that we can begin to seek justice, truth and ultimately the healing and reconciliation of individuals and communities." More here.

Holy water starts to get wet, wet, wet ...

Over on Seven Weeks for Water things are getting wet. This week Chip Andrus encourages us to think wet and live wet as we consider the true and deeper meaning of our baptism.

The Church consists of people born of water and the Spirit in baptism. Baptism is a journey only completed in death and therefore we are called to “live wet” or practice the faith we covenanted to live with God and one another throughout our lives.
When we intentionally make connections between all water and the water of baptism, we can then find the sacredness of every encounter with this basic element of life and death. On the other hand we may find the defilement of God’s sacredness when water is polluted, deprived to humans, used as a means of wealth, or used for torture.
I was baptised as a small baby by a minister who spoke Welsh as well as English. He spent most of his working life as a teacher and helped out in the local congregation when there was no minister. Shortly before his death he also officiated at the legal part of our marriage.
Chip Andrus' piece has helped me during this Lenten time to think about what it means for me to be a baptised Christian - am I really following Christ into the deepest depths and the strongest promise of living wet?

Monday, 8 March 2010

"What can we women know, save philosophies of the kitchen?"

After leading worship in the Ecumenical Centre this morning Elaine Neuenfeldt sent us this wodnerful extract about how cooking aids thinking and writing - I do very much hope she is not going to find us a quote about housework along the same lines

Dear women
I'm sharing here a powerful reflection from Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz who was an exceptional seventeenth-century nun who set precedents for feminism long before the term or concept existed. This is an offering to continue our reflections, our network, our sisterhood! Thank you for sharing your wisdom, your solidarity and your commitments for gender justice.

"What can we women know, save philosophies of the kitchen?"

[Continuing with examples of studying without books, Juana goes to a topic that a "Sor Filotea" would know about, but that a bishop of Puebla wouldn't:]

Well, and what shall I tell you, my Lady, of the secrets of nature that I have learned while cooking? I observe that an egg becomes solid and cooks in butter or oil, and on the contrary that it dissolves in sugar syrup....

I shall not weary you with such inanities, which I relate simply to give you a full account of my nature, and I believe this will make you laugh. But in truth, my Lady, what can we women know, save philosophies of the kitchen? It was well put... that one can philosophize quite well while preparing supper. I often say, when I make these little observations, "Had Aristotle cooked, he would have written a great deal more." [p.75]

Food for thought and food for life on International Women's Day

Our liturgy for international women's day this morning focused on daily bread and included recipes from the LWF's splendid Food for Life cookbook.
It was fun to have recipes as part of the liturgy, I wouldn't quite say that it had our mouths watering but it certainly gave our praying a more sensual quality, the prosaic words conjured up smells and flavours as well as the healing qualities of some food.
Fulata Mbano Moyo gave a very personal reflection entitled: Desperation created by systems of inequality as enemy to women’s dignity.
She spoke of her own experience losing and mourning her husband over a decade ago to look at how sytems of economic injustice and privation mean that when tragedy strikes it can often be the double tragedy for women of the loss of a loved-one and the loss of their livelihood. speaking of her own desperation she looked at the stories of two deperate women in the Bible. In 2Kings 4 the desperate widow in advised by Elisha to fill her own and her neighbours empty vessels with oil thus preventing the sale of her children into slavery. In Matthew 15 the Canaanite woman is desperate for her daughter, willing to humiliate herself like a puppy and be content even with mere crumbs from the master's table.

If you love somebody and that somebody is in ill-health, you are more prone to being desperate for the restoration of their health. The woman we meet in Matthew 15: 21-28, loved her daughter deeply and desperately sought her restoration to health –“rescue from the torment of the demon”. She would try anything that would bring that restoration. The question of dignity and respect was not a priority at this point. Observance of the rules for example keeping away from other ethnic groups as a “Canaanite” (a derogatory term) was not an option for her. If being compared to a dog ( an insult) would bring healing to her daughter –“even dogs eat crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Despite her own desperation, she still strategically challenged Jesus' own human bias and insensitivity – and he said “woman great is your faith”.

As we prayed for women and men throughout the world, as we sang John Bell's amazing hymn "there is a line of women, extending back to Eve" in celebration of biblical women, as we shared the blessing by holding out one hand upwards and the other downwards, we "went out with songs of resurrection" ... with much food for thought. And in the main lobby the men were serving coffee and juice and croissants, real food, real breakfast greeted us. Food for life.

There is a line of women, extending back to Eve
Whose role in shaping history God only could conceive
And though, through endless ages, their witness was repressed
God valued and encouraged then through whom the world was blessed.

Women's Daily Bread on international women's day

For international women's day, you can download the LWI special on Women's Daily Bread. Several friends and colleagues have been working on this and I'm looking forward to reading it.
The World Alliance of Reformed Churches has launched a Jesus bus as part of it commitment to women. Read more here.
Meanwhile our worship at the ecumenical centre this morning will be led by women and is also on the theme of daily bread.

Happy international women's day

Over on Aristotle's feminist subject J.K.Gayle has done a series of great posts on "if your body is sexed female ..." which Bible you can read, when you can vote, where you can't study ... there are so far six posts in and they make for challenging and salutory reading. For many women things have got alot better over the best 10 decades, there is still a long way to go.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

The threat and promise of resurrection in good and evil

At catechism yesterday we tried to tackle the small issues of good and evil, the meaning of faith and the cross ...
The mobile phone photos here show part of how we worked with this. We went through some old newspapers and magazines choosing pictures of good and evil and then made a good and evil collage. Interestingly we had more material for the good collage than for the evil one which was perhaps heartening!
We had first tried to begin to understand the big questions around good and evil by reading the story of Cain and Abel. After we had made the collages we first did a bit of remembered Bible and then read the whole of the passion narrative in Luke's gospel before and after lunch together. Noone seemed bored.
Just before the end of our time together I said right now we're going to destroy our works of art and make something new out of them. So we chopped up the good and evil collages and then used the different pieces created to make a cross (well actually three crosses as we had rather more material than we expected). The cross is a complex symbol, both a sign of torture and death and of resurrection and hope.
So yesterday's catechism was in may ways an attempt at a theology of the cross using glue scissors and wasate paper. I think it worked quite well, helping us in Lenten time to prepare for and understand some of Easter's threat and promise.

Linking all things ...

Everything is linked - Per Harling

Every breath is sacred.
Each pulse is the beat of everything.
Each step is a step together.
Each individual case is universal.
Each wound is everyone's pain.
Each cry is everyone weeping.
Each cry of giving voice to the earth,
for its sorrow and lamentation.
Everything is linked; earth with sky, I go.
Everything is linked; the life of the body with the life of the soul.

Sometimes, somewhere out there there is great solidarity. This ad hoc translation of one of Per Harling's Psalms was sent to me over the weekend. Along with reading detective fiction and teaching the young people it has helped to lift my spirits and encourage me to face the new week. It is good to have friends.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Jealousy and good and evil while finding meaning for life in Genesis 4:6-7

Today I have been teaching catechism (KT) and we tried to address issues of good and evil, as well as issues of commitment and engagement. I'll blog later about our reading of the whole of the passion narrative from Luke's gospel but we began by reading the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4. Where does evil come from, is it within us, beyond us? Verses 6 and 7 particularly struck me, full of profound theological insight. Here are two English translations for you to get a feel for:

The Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.’
The LORD said to Cain:What's wrong with you? Why do you have such an angry look on your face?

If you had done the right thing, you would be smiling. But you did the wrong thing, and now sin is waiting to attack you like a lion. Sin wants to destroy you, but don't let it!
This part of the story spoke powerfully to me today about the anger vortex, how we can let ourselves be eaten up by it, how it can eat away at us and at our relationships. The French version we were working with today has sin spread like a carpet at the door ... interesting the different images used to get the message across.
Really though the question is how do we deal with our feelings of anger, of being mistreated. Will we let the feelings destroy us and others or will we try to take responsibility and address ourselves to a different kind of goal?

The link between Dr Who's "allons y!" and André Chouraqui's translation of the Magnificat

I've written about André Chouraqui's translation of the Bible into French several times before. The passage from his translation that is particularly well-known is the Beatitudes where the the word "blessed" is rendered "En Marche"
Yesterday evening I read Chouraqui's translation of the Magnificat for the first time - partly to see how "blessed" was rendered in this passage - and in verse 48 he has Mary say "from this time on all generations will call me: En marche!" It's of course not the most elegant French - but it is thought provoking and it does challenge the rather more passive way we tend to interpret "blessed". Translating makarios - blessed - in the beatitudes and here in the Magnificat as "en marche!" - gives it the meaning of get up, get going, let's go. If someone is "en marche" they would be setting out on a path, walking, "marcher" is the French for to walk; if something is en marche, it is switched on, working, going.
Thinking about this I realised that the best way of trying to explain the meaning to a British audience would be with the catchphrase of David Tennant's Dr Who "allons y!" - let's get to it, let's go there, let's go!
Dr B has for several years now been wanting me to preach a series of sermon on Dr Who related themes - I have to keep reminding him that in France no one would understand anything about it. Anyway I hope he appreciates this little attempt at a Dr Who thought for the day rather than sermon.

Friday, 5 March 2010

planting ... watering ... yeasting with Oscar Romero

"This is what we are about: We plant the seeds that will one day grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities."
Archbishop Oscar Romero.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Diversity, unity, wealth - limits, the big dream and embodiment

Twice in the past 48 hours I have had conversations with people about Minna Hietamäki's excellent presentation to the Faith and Order Plenary Commission on How much diversity is Enough? Earlier this week we received a copy of Minna's book Agreeable Agreement to review for Ecumenical Review. Here's a short extract from her presentation to Faith and Order:

In the contemporary world when other cultures and traditions come to us through newspapers, television and internet and when we encounter diversity not only when travelling ourselves but also though the diversity in the cultures that exist in the place we call home, it is very easy to think of diversity as a kind of decoration for our aesthetic enjoyment on the surface of the essentially one Church. It is my perception that in my country, the standard intellectually enlightened person with a more or less positive sense of religion would, in general, think in this way. They would say that religions in general and churches in particular are essentially about the same thing and differences are nothing more serious than variety of configurations of “the same”. But if we say that the Church is “the body of Christ whose interrelated diversity is essential to its wholeness” (par. 3), this kind of decorative diversity is not enough.
Meanwhile here at home Dr B is getting better, slowly but surely we hope, and today he wrote something over on Open Source Ecumenism entitled"unity is strength but diversity is wealth". The quote is from Herman van Rompuy the EU Council president.
Reading Minna's article again and then Stephen's post I've been thinking about how the big dream of ecumenism is important in terms of focus but that it is how our institutions embody their professed ideals that will really impact their sustainability. Are there limits to the wealth of diversity? How do we embody the big idea's values while trying to tap in to the strength of unity and wealth of diversity?
In his post Stephen points to the value of the long view, slow rather than fast ecumenism I suppose you could call it. But embodiment takes time. Here's a short extract:
but maybe it is also important to take the "long view", to look down the line, to embody functions and mechanisms step-by-step, to take seriously the "wealth of diversity" rather than hiding behind a shield of unconvincing optimism - while at the same time identifying the issues and concerns around which the many interests and visions of the ecumenical movement might connect.

Holy Water celebrates the feast of the Theophany

Over on the Ecumenical Water Network Elias Abramides has been writing about Holy Water and the Feast of the Theophany.

The ceremony of the Holy Water is conducted inside the church but if possible, across the world, it mostly takes place near open bodies of water: a river, a lake or by the sea. As a sign of blessing just as Christ blessed the waters of the Jordan, Holy Water is poured into a body of water (a lake, river, pond or stream) and a cross is plunged into the water (being retrieved later by divers who in this way are blessed).
Holy Water blessed at the Feast of Theophany is given to the faithful to drink for health, and for the blessing of the body. In the weeks following Theophany, the clergy may visit the home of the faithful and conduct a ceremony of blessing using the Holy Water that was blessed at Theophany.

I wrote about our own blessing of the waters service at the Ecumenical Centre earlier this year. It is a moving service and can have great meaning, not only for those from the Orthodox tradition. You can find see some images and commentaries about how the Feast of the Theophany is marked on the Keeping the Faith site.
One of the things I am enjoying particularly about Seven Weeks for Water this year is plunging into the holy waters of traditions different to my own, having my horizons opened to other spiritualites and also learning more about water and its liturgical uses.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Romantic democrat ...

I've been moved today to read the tributes to the wonderful Michael Foot who died aged 96. He was one of my father's political inspirations - Foot was a decade older and my dear dad has been canvassing a higher authority for nearly five years. I particularly liked Neil Kinnock's piece called romantic democrat and this by Mark Seddon who used to be in the same ward Labour party as me several decades ago. That was where I went canvassing, became politically active, where I was when we lost the terrible 1983 election and where I met Dr B ...
As I ponder Michael Foot's and my father's political legacy I feel convinced that across democratic countries we need to reawaken a falling in love with political ideas, political debate and the building up of democracy itself. Do we actually believe that we deserve, do we even want, politicians of integrity and conviction any more? What will it take to make our cultures fall in love with vibrant democracy and civil society? But perhaps we don't really want intelligent debate and informed discussion, we would rather develop a culture of ridicule and blame.
Democracy is a poetic and practical ideal, it deserves feisty, intelligent proponents. Let's hope that the romance of politics and political ideas will not die with foot's generation.

A quote from Michael Foot

"Men of power have not time to read; yet the men who do not read are unfit for power" Michael Foot

I could change that to "people of power..." but it is a piece of its own time ...

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Reception and annunciation at feminist theology

We were studying and reflecting upon Luke 1.26-38 at feminist theology tonight, the account of the annunciation.
Interesting that a literal translation of the feast of the annunciation from the German Maria Empfängnis would be the feast of reception. Mary receives the announcement, embodies and carries the word into the world - in many ways a Spirit annointed prophet and also the first of Christ's disciples.
One comment on the text came from Jean Luc Godard's Je vous salue Marie in which one reflection on Mary's virginity is "être vierge c'est être disponible" - another way into reception and annunciation.
We read the annunciation this evening as part of our progression into the theme of finding our voice finding our way(voix and voie in French). How do we as women, as women who seek to follow Jesus respond and say "yes", say "so be it" to the call that comes to us from God, from God's messengers? We also asked ourselves "What is the angel saying to you?"
We dwelt for quite a while on the word "servant" (doulos) pondering the meaning of being slaves to the word, talking about service to the word not being the same as servitude.
What came through in many of the responses is how our understanding of Mary is that she is no doormat but that she is "upright and going forwards". The call she receives is a call to trust.
I felt challenged by our communal reading to say that I was hearing something along the lines of "do not be a slave to your work, enslave yourself rather to grace and trust". I'm still not comfortable with the slave langauge but the liberating out of servitude langauge did wokr for me tonight.
Coming home I've also been thinking about speaking and listening as part of the "reception - annunciation" dynamic. Communication, communion, carrying forth the word - the internalising and externalising of the good news. I do also wonder how virginal I am, how "disponible", how available, how open ...
And finally, reading the Bible with others is good for you. It would be fair to say that I was not in a happy state at the beginning of my evening but spending time talking about the Bible, faith and our lives lifted my spirits and granted me, albeit briefly some perspective. So feminist theology is good for the soul - but then I never doubted that any way!

Monday, 1 March 2010

Opportunity and danger all part of the crisis of kairos

The Ecumenical Prayer Cycle invites us this week to pray for Switzerland, among other countries. We had a wonderful service helped by a large group of visitors from the Focolari movement who sang and led our music. They were visiting the centre as part of a two week training seminar on ecumenism, they came from all continents of the world. One of them was even able to read in Romansch, Switzerland's fourth language, and her rendering of Psalm 140 had those of us who had never heard the language in public before all straining to see what we could understand - fascinating and very lovely.

The service was led by Rudolf Renfer, a Reformed pastor who works at the Lutheran World Federation as head of human resources. Rudolf speaks at least five languages. He preached a good sermon on opportunity and danger - or chance and risk. Starting with the idea of the Chinese characters for chance and risk producing the idea for "crisis" Rudolf began by telling a story, then encouraging us to think about what is opportunity and what is danger: in life, in a country like Switzerland, in the ecumenical movement. There is opportunity and danger in all decisions and crises that we face:

So let’s look at the chances in a context in Switzerland where economic and political networking is based on justice and transparency and not on fraud and evasion.
Let’s look at the chances to open new spaces for the ecumenical movement where collaboration, confidence building and concrete new steps will be possible.
Let’s take the crisis as an extraordinary occasion for new departures, even if each occasion implies a new risk.
Let’s be open to Christ’s call for a responsible way of using the opportunities in our lives.
Let’s repent, reorient ourselves, look ahead and start again, in order not to perish.
Not as a theoretical approach, but as a challenge for our daily important and nitty gritty work.
Those of you wanting to know more about the myth behind Chinese ideogrammes can visit this site. Crisis is nevertheless still made up of opportunity and risk.
Full text of Rudolf's sermon here.