Saturday, 31 July 2010

Leon Ferrari - photo from our cycling correspondent

This photo was taken yesterday in Arles by my brother Richard who has been cycling from Montélimar to friends in Lunel Viel over the past few days.
The piece is a famous one by Argentine artist Leon Ferrari, whose work is being exhibited in a former Roman Catholic Church during the Arles cultural festival.

You can find out more about the exhibition here.

The presence of a Léon Ferrari retrospective in a church is a paradox verging on the miraculous: here we have a famous, ninety-year-old artist who has devoted a large part of his working life to studying and implacably criticising the Catholic Church from its origins up to the present day.

Ferrari’s œuvre foregrounds the contradictions of the human condition: the abuses of power and the intolerance, sexual repression, racism, violence and authoritarianism that characterise different kinds of organisations in contemporary society. Mixing humour and sarcasm in ongoing reinterpretations of history, Ferrari confronts us with all the ambiguity, cruelty and stupidity human beings are capable of, citing as examples the horrors of the Inquisition, the Nazi concentration camps, America’s impositions of military hegemony, the dictatorship in Argentina, and the multiple forms in which such abominations can resurface ...

His mythic piece La Civilización Occidental y Cristiana (Western Christian Civilisation)—an assemblage of an American war plane and a crucified Christ, censored in the Argentina of the 1960s—will be shown in the very special setting of the Chapelle Sainte-Anne. Never in its entire history has this remarkable work been exhibited in such a significantly relevant venue.

Love parade - the ecumenism of grief

I've been reading Wolfgang Thielmann's post on the ecumenical service for those died in the Love Parade. Telling of the tears of politicians during the service he speaks about the ecumenism of grief, about how when Nikolaus Schneider preaches about loss his words are not seen as empty - for he too knows what it is to lose a child. Such moments of mourning bring people together across confessional boundaries.

As I read it I thought again about the fact that sharing grief almost brings us closer together than sharing joy ... so sad, so important.

Love is an orientation ...

My friend Nyambura Njoroge is currently reading Love is an Orientation by Andrew Marin after meeting Andrew in Vienna recently. Nyambura coordinates the WCC's Ecumenical HIV AIDS Initiative in Africa, alot of the work she does is in theological education. She's been telling me about how Andrew's book has given her much food for thought on the need for so called ecumenicals and so called evangelicals to build bridges and try to follow the call of Christ. I'm looking forward to getting hold of a copy myself, sounds like a good read. Does the Bible really encourage us to see any other human being as lesspeople
Meanwhile I've already been enjyoing reading Andrew's blog and will go back there in time to come. I'm quite intrigued by one his most recent posts which offers various takes on a one sentence Bible. But the one sentence Bible seems to be an ongoing project as Andrew reads the Bible this year.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Sailing between the stars and reaching for hope ...

Kurk Gayle's father is reaching the end of his life - it is a wrenching terrible time and and yet he is caring for his family and loved ones by reading to them ... in a whisper but with such strong words.

Tonight as I read what he had shared I felt ministered to by a man at the end of his life whom I have never met. He is caring for his family right to the end.

In recent weeks I have felt ministered to by many who have received terrible news, of death, of illness, of redundancy, of divorce, of miscarriage ... Yet I continued to weep for my own loss, the loss of a dream, the loss perhaps of love, the loss of a sense of the future. So very selfish, so very self-obsessed, so very petty.

Reading this helped me a little to at least know that hope will return and I shall one day be in a place where the tears do not fall unbidden every day.

There aren’t any easy answers to the big questions that haunt us and hunt us down. Friends commit suicide. Grandparents die awkwardly and alone in nursing homes. We get fired. We have affairs. Our kids get hooked on drugs. Time and gravity wear us down as we travel across this vale of tears.

Yet when we have hope, we have a refuge. I like how Paul put it: “We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day”. Or, as … Peterson paraphrases it …, “We’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it looks like things are falling apart, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace.” And grace is always stronger than my circumstances.

Every day we’re both wasting away and being renewed. When God’s Spirit moves, joy is reborn, and our lives, once new, can continually be renewed through faith and the promises of faith.

Here’s what I have to keep reminding myself: pain is real, but so is joy. Every moment, hope is available. Even now, peace can be mine. And the sparkling moments of joy that make life worth living are just as much a part of our world as the speeding tickets and funerals. When you take the time to look at both sides of the equation, you realize that life is both more depressing and more delightful than you thought.

I think it’s significant that the Bible never says Jesus enjoyed suffering. Pain is no fun — at least now for healthy, emotionally stable people. Hebrews 12:2 says we should keep our lives focused on Jesus, “who for the joy set before him endured the cross.” Jesus didn’t enjoy the cross; he endured it. If you meet a Christian who acts happy all the time — that shallow, plastic kind of happiness — avoid him like the dentist after Halloween. He has one eye closed to reality.

Jesus never acted artificially happy. And despite what you may have heard from some well-meaning preacher, Jesus did not like being tortured to death. He didn’t delight in it; he put up with it. To enjoy pain isn’t Christianity; it’s masochism. But to willingly endure suffering because you love something more than your own comfort level, well, that’s getting closer to the heart of the divine.

Joy is often wedded to sorrow, peace often accentuated through pain. Christianity isn’t just about putting up with hardships or dealing with problems or handling suffering. One of the paradoxes of faith is embracing those things voluntarily as a way of expressing devotion to God. Christianity is a journey that takes you everywhere you’ve always wanted to go but never by the route you’d expect. Or choose.

This voluntary aspect of love (and in some cases the willing acceptance of pain because of it) is one of the features of Christianity that sets it apart from other religions. Obligation and duty are not the same as love. Love offers itself. It actually volunteers for the cross.

i want to untangle the future
but for now i’ll let
the riddle of
your love for me
take me along the current
of this moment
as i whisper
my yes
and strive to live out
my thanks.

From Steven James’s book Sailing Between the Stars

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Dreaming dreams ...

This morning walking to the bus and then sitting in the chapel I had, not exactly an epiphany, but in quiet and from pain I arrived at a moment of perception and groped towards wordless understanding of what my rational mind says is intractable.

Then of course the day took over, but even now at the end of the day I still remember the physical feeling of what that groping glimpse of perception gave me.

Others would call it just a day dream.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Fragments and unjoined up thoughts on this and that

So today I started an idle thought on Facebook "Wondering whether a 'theology of fragments' might be one useful starting point in thinking about the ecumenical movement" and was surprised about where it led.
Dr B pointed me to David Tracy's fragments as a theological category:

Fragments show the need to shatter any reigning totality system, such as the "white" understanding of modernity and culture. At the very same ... time fragments embody quite a positive meaning: a break out of totality into infinity by discovering one's own routes and one's own traditions. In this process, one discovers all the others and the different, in the very same way, as possible disclosures of infinity.

My friend Simon Oxley pointed to Duncan Forrester's "Theological Fragments: Explorations in Unsystematic Theology" which was not what I had been thinking about - my own thoughts had been more a half remembered musing on Henning Luther's theology of fragments and the idea of Christ's own life as a fragment. Luther seems to have developed his thoughts in part as a pastoral theology to find meaning in situations of palliative care, particularly for younger patients with AIDS or cancer.

Today fragments of my day would include:
A conversation about biblical archeology with a Palestinian Muslim and a surprising conversation about Thomas L Thompson in which I was definitely the person on the learning curve.
Thoughts exchanged in French about Unitarianism within Protestantism as an important yet often unexpressed part of our tradition.
Sadness at the realisation that my own life is also just a fragment and wondering if Jesus may have felt something of that as he faced death so young - then wondering whether the struggle with meaningless was ever part of earlier cultures. Yet my life being just a fragment is also oddly quite reassuring. Not sure I can quite explain that just yet.
And now at the end of the day as I return to the idea of a fragmentary theology of ecumenism, I suppose I wonder whether we need both an unsystematic theology of ecumenism and also a deep understanding of the ecumenical movement as a fragment - a humble fragment. Can't take this much further than that for now but maybe one day in heaven or in the other place I will have time to ponder some more.
Fragments of the day also included coping with the welling up of tears and being surprised when laughter and ideas drove away my current deep sadness.
Fragmentarily, I look back at the day and remember the morning dew, the heavy late afternoon rain, the humility of getting it wrong when interpreting, the pleasures of translating well written German, the joys of editing, the grind of grief, the stunning light of sun through crowd, a great conversation with an Arabic translator and the support of friends.
All as weighty as dust, yet part of the pathetic yet essential struggle against meaninglessness in my fragmented life.
For tonight fragmentary ambiguity is where I'm at.
Tomorrow as they say, is another day. Thank God.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

The narrow and broad places of peace

This artist thought so carefully about what he wanted to convey, deceptively simple yet with delicately and finely executed leaves and blooms on the tree that grows from following the path of peace. What was fascinating about the idea here is that the path of peace is in some ways easier to follow when we are in narrow rather than in open spaces. The really lovely idea here was that when we think we have lost our way we may actually be forming the roots for the tree of peace - apologies for standing the artist on his head to let you see his work more easily!

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Simply beautiful ...

I simply like these two paintings - both have meaning and movement - one more minimalist the other more filled and geometric. The artists worked outdoors, slowly and quietly, interrupted by our noisy visits from time to time.

Simply beautiful.

A beloved wife's name, a labyrinth of love, a scroll of peace and so much more besides

Action and reflection spiral with two ways of looking at things

I think the artist of this piece came from Indonesia. The spiral is the increasing action reflection spiral of his life, encountering joy and pain on the way. Then there are two beautifully executed faces which look upwards and downwards at the whole, different perspectives from afar and close up - what do we see?

The Palm tree can be used in every part

This was the only work to be done by two people and I enjoyed its evolution and the lively way they spoke about it - as well as the creative use of collage and paint. A palm tree can be used in every part. We too need to commit our whole selves to peace and dialogue, being useful in all our parts to those tasks. A really great idea,

Hands on for meaning

I don't seem to have a picture of the final version of this work which ended up with a wonderful bunch of flowers between the open and closed hand. Each hand represents how life can be more up and down, yet will still end the same way for all of us. The flowers were not for death but for joy.

A basket of peace

The artist comes from Rwanda. I admired the lovely colours in his painting and then he explained that it is the basket of peace. In his culture women carry such baskets on their heads, filled with precious gifts - food or milk. His basket carries the very precious gift of peace, carried by women as it is more often than not the men who wage war.

An earthenware vessel ...

I was intrigued by what this blue form would finally turn out to be. The sister chose her favourite colours for what she described as "an earthenware vessel", a clay jug. She put such attention to detail into getting the yellow cut out just right. Very lovely and a splendid act of imagination to make something that looks yellow but which begins life as something blue. I like that.

Labyrinths and artwork to bring the interreligious summer school to a close

So here are the participants at this year's Interreligious Summer School with my great colleague Tara Tautari taking their photo and the IEPC cloth labyrinth in the foreground. The Christian, Muslim and Jewish participants at the school have been reflecting on how religions can contribute to peace building.
I've joined them on three occasions as their interpreter and it has been a fascinating experience interpreting the local rabbi or representative of the mosque. Today however I changed roles and encouraged the participants to think about where they had come from and where they were going with what they had experienced during the four weeks of the summer school.
Each of them received a photocopy of the Chartres labyrinth and also an A4 version of the IEPC logo which we used as finger labyrinths to get into the idea of travelling into and out of places, issues and experiences. Some walked in the cloth labyrinth outside. And then they started, painting and chopping and sticking; laughing and keeping quiet, in groups or alone, at tables or outside on the grass. The results were simply wonderful.
We closed the session with the group photo but before that, many of the artists shared the meaning behind their paintings and collages. It was a beautiful, restful and recreative time. A time to believe in and celebrate the playfulness of God. A real privilege to have been asked to spend this time with such an extraordinary group. What a wonderful sunny afternoon.

The next few posts will show some of the works.

Monday, 26 July 2010

If Mercy, Truth, Justice and Peace were people what would they say to each other?

It's holiday time and to say that there were not many of us in chapel this morning would be an understantement!
We focused in the service on praying for peace as we prayed for the churches in the Caribbean who will next year host the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation.
I decided not to preach a sermon but to "steal" one in the form of a brilliant meditation by John Paul Lederach on an imagined meeting and conversation between Justice, Mercy, Truth and Mercy.

His starting point were the verses from the Psalms:
Truth and Mercy have met together
Justice and Peace have kissed.

The idea that these are not just values but people who can converse, relate to one another and ultimately even dance together is quite brilliant. It is also one Lederach has used to good effect in his work on conflict mediation to transform deep seated antagonism in societies. An act of creative imagination which allows people to speak to one another, to discover their own prejudices and to find a path towards reconciliation.

You can read Lederach's powerful text which I used extracts from this morning here. (scroll down to the part entitled The Meeting) Here's how it begins:

so I brought Truth, Mercy, Justice and Peace into room and sat them down in front of the contentious crowd. I addressed the four. "We want to know what concerns you each have in the midst of conflict. Would it be possible to hear your views?"

Truth stood and spoke first. "I am Truth," she said. "I am like light cast so that all may see. At times of conflict I am concerned with bringing forward, out into the open, what really happened. Not with the watered down version. Not with a partial recounting. My handmaidens are transparency, honesty, and clarity. I am set apart from my three colleagues here," Truth gestured toward Mercy, Justice and Peace, "because they need me first and foremost. Without me they cannot go forward. When I am found, I set people free."

"Sister Truth," I interjected hesitantly, not wanting to question her integrity, "You know I have been around a lot of conflict in my life and there is one thing that I am always curious about. When I talk to one side, like these people over here, they say that you are with them. When I talk to the others, like our friends over there, they claim you are on their side. Yet in the middle of all this pain, you seem to come and go. Is there only one Truth?"

"There is only one Truth, but I can be experienced in many different ways. I reside within each person yet nobody owns me."

"If discovering you is so crucial," I asked Sister Truth, "why are you so hard to find?"

She thought for a while, then said. "I can only appear where the search is genuine and authentic. I come forward only when each person shares with others what they know of me and each respects the others voice. Where I am strutted before others, like a hand puppet on a child's stage, I am abused, shattered and disappear."

"Of these three friends," I pointed to the three colleagues seated around her, "Whom do you fear the most?"

Without hesitation she pointed to Mercy. "I fear him," she said quietly. "In his haste to heal he covers my light and clouds my clarity. He forgets," she concluded, "that forgiveness is our child, not his."

Sunday, 25 July 2010

What does ABC mean to you?

So although I have blogged much less in recent weeks I have tried to add a few new links to my side bar. Really my blog should have a bit of an overhaul but honestly I'm not all that at house work in the real work so I see no reason to start trying to prove otherwise in the virtual world.
Anyway one of the links is to the new ABC Religion and Ethics site which is a place I could happily spend far too much time I suspect. I read about it first here on Ben Myers Faith and Theology and, because on the post he publicises it on there's a picture of Rowan Williams, I took the ABC to mean Archbishop of Canterbury, I was a bit flumoxed for a while! Anyway it is well worth checking out.

So what does ABC mean to you, any other acronyms out there?

Fear and Doubt - by Erich Fried

Angst und Zweifel - Erich Fried

Zweifle nicht
an dem
der dir sagt
er hat Angst

aber hab Angst
vor dem
der dir sagt
er kennt keinen Zweifel

Fear and Doubt

Doubt not
the one
who says to you
he fears

But fear
the one
who says to you
he knows no doubt

Godless Britain - Rowan Williams, secularism and much more besides ...

Our clopy of the New Statesman usually arrives lat so I'm only just getting around to reading last week's copy now.
It's good read for folk like me who are both of the church and of the left. I particularly like the way some non-believers struggle with the "God-shaped hole". (Though I would like to point out that "Britain" is not a nation defined by the Church of England - in some of the writing you would think that the Church of England is also the established Church in Scotland!)

There's a good profile piece of Rowan Williams by Jonathan Derbyshire. Here are a few extracts:

The Archbishop's resistance to what he sees as attempts to consign religion to the margins of the public sphere is not merely "bloody-minded". On the contrary, it is grounded in deep and sustained reflection on the place of faith in modern liberal democracies.

Modern secular states take for granted what Williams regards as a partial and impoverished notion of citizenship. According to what one might call the "public philosophy" of liberal secular democracy, to be a citizen is, in his words, to "be under the rule of the uniform law of a sovereign state".

The problem with this idea of citizenship, for Williams, is that it is too narrow. It takes no account of the cultural and religious affiliations citizens might have above and beyond their status as legal subjects - or, at best, it relegates those other kinds of attachment or belonging to a private world. And that is especially problematic in ethnically, culturally and confessionally diverse societies. It risks, Williams argues, producing a "ghettoised pattern of social life", in which religious forms of "interest and reasoning" are treated as infra dig, and not given an airing in public debate about "shared goods and priorities".

Williams maintains that one of the consequences of religious interests being excluded in this way is a coarsening of political discourse. Religious perspectives can, he thinks, imbue the language of public deliberation with a "depth and moral gravity that cannot be gen­erated simply by the negotiation of . . . balanced self-interests".

Derbyshire together with James Macintyre have also produced an interview with Williams as part of this issue.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

25 books that have influenced me...

So already a few days ago George set a challenge to just write down 25 books which have had an influence on me in no particular order and see where I go. 25 is a good enough number to encompass different sort of stuff, not just favourites ...
You can see George's list here.
So here goes, not quite sure where this will take me but at least I immediately knew where it had to begin ...
Enid Blyton - The Secret of Spiggy Holes - When I was seven maybe eight this was the first proper book that I remember reading. It was my mother's hardback copy and I can still remember the dark red binding and the feeling of achievement when I finished it in a couple of days. Suddenly I had entered the world of reading and understood its secrets. Then of course I got stuck reading Enid Blyton for years!
Jan Piencowski and Edith Brill - The Golden Bird. This is one of the few books from childhood I still have on my bookshelves. A fairy story beautifully illustrated, beautifully told and crafted, I still read it even now. Wonderful.
Vera Brittain - A Testament of Youth - granting me as a young teenager insight into the First World war, peace activism, poetry and more besides.
Cecil Woodham Smith - The Reason Why. Wonderful writer and historian - links between the charge of the light brigade and the Irish potato famine. Military history with a difference. Picked up a copy in Booksfam Oxford, someone else has since "borrowed" it.
Jane Austen - Pride and Prejudice. To be read at least every two years. The perfect antidote to depression I read it to keep calm and to laugh - and of course to improve my English prose style!
Dorothy L Sayers - Busman's Honeymoon. This stands in homage to my complete thralldom to detective fiction.
Susan Hill In the Springtime of the Year. The only novel that my husband to be (9 years into the future!) recommended to me.
Anne Michaels - Fugitive Pieces - simply one of the best books I have ever read. I admire its breadth its vision and the way it confronts the seeming hopelessness of life ... I suppose I feel that it has the most satisfying unhappy ending, an unhappy ending that goes on making sense.
Toni Morrison
- Beloved, given to me by a lover who was abandoning me, reading it opened my mind to new story and language and continues to do so.
Heinrich Böll
- Das Brot der Fruhen Jahre. The first novel I remember reading in German simply for enjoyment.(first male writer on the list!)
Primo Levi
If not now When, A Periodic Table, If this is a Man - resistance, concentration camps, Jewish identity ... too much to bear ... and yet ... read online here
Alice Walker - My brother gave me The Colour Purple at about the same time as he was coming out but I think that the book that had more impact on was her Living by the Word which I took with me to East Germany and used to teach English to folk there as the Berlin wall was falling down.
Judith Kerr - When Hitler stole Pink Rabbit - her family history similar to my family's history
Doris Lessing - Under my Skin and the golden notebook - her first volume of autobiography and the novel of hers which it simply does my brain good to read.
Ursula Le Guin - the Earthsea trilogy which became a quintet and which I have been re-reading since I was 11
Margaret Atwood
- the Handmaids Tale and just about anything else. Love reading her.
Miles Franklin - My Brilliant Career - this is also here to remind me of the enormous pleasure Virago books in general gave me. Also reminds me of course that my career is going bung.
Robert Fisk -The Great War for Civilisation - extraordinary writing and my reading of it is interwoven with my ongoing struggle with Middle East and Jewish issues ... but it is an education and a must-read for anyone trying to get behind the news reports.
Sara Paretsky - Any of the V I Warshawski crime novels - I love crime fiction
Barbara Kingsolver - Poisonwood Bible and Prodigal Summer - novels I read again and again for pure pleasure and the challenge of narratives that renew me and themselves in the rereading.
Christian Bobin - L'homme qui marche, La plus que vive ... - the first his life of Christ the second his account of love and grief. Utterly extraodingary spiritual writing. Language as physical pleasure.
Sebastien Japrisot - Un long dimanche des fiancialles - when I moved to France this was the first modern French novel I read for pleasure. The inhumanity of the first world war and searching for a lost love.
Kurt Marti
- Mein Barfussig Lob - My copy of this comes from former East Germany, I only really realised he was Swiss very recently! Poetry that weaves theology, ecology and life together.
Alberto Manguel
- A History of Reading - The most wonderful book about the joy of books and reading. Such fun and erudition. someone has also "borrowed" my copy of this.
Maya Angelou - I know why the Caged Bird sings - another lyrical inspiring and challenging biography
Charlotte Bronte - Villette - all about Brussels, language and the clash between Catholic and Protestant culture. An almost modernist ending. Actually to give him credit, this is another novel my husband recommended to me

I haven't counted but that's probably too many, will do for now though I think. Happy reading - why not write down your own list?

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Do we have the courage to take the lead on HIVAIDS?

Dr B has interviewed Dr Nyambura Njoroge in Vienna at the UN AIDS conference,

“Many of the issues we are addressing today, the key drivers of HIV such as violence, the cultural aspects, the misinterpretation of Scriptures have all been part of the discussions of African women theologians,” said Nyambura Njoroge, coordinator of the Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiative in Africa (EHAIA).

You can read the full interview here: African theologian on responding to HIV, gender and men who have sex with men.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Visit the Communio Garden of the LWF

And here's another great idea from the LWF Assembly website the communio garden you can find out who's tweeting about #lwf2010, watch some videos, read blogs from around the world. It's a fun idea. I like that it's called a garden, like the Luthergarten that is being planted in Wittenberg in preparation for 2017 and the 500th anniversary of the reformation. Find out how you can plant a tree in the Luthergarten in Wittenberg and also where you are here. In the meantime why not plant a blog post about Daily Bread, or plant a tweet, or plant a video. The Assembly isn't just for people who can be in Stuttgart it's for those who can just drop in and visit the garden now and again. So help the garden bloom - plant some words and see them grow!

It's about daily bread and it's in Stuttgart

The Lutheran World Federation is holding its assembly in Stuttgart at the moment. The theme is the verse from the Lord's Prayer "Give us this Day our Daily Bread". It's a good theme in an age of fear about food security, with the continuing scandal of so many millions going hungry every day.
The great website, run by the wonderful Terri Miller - who is also a fabulous vegetarian and vegan cook - looks really great and you can find links to some great Bible studies and reflections not only on poverty but also on whether some of us are too wealthy.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Congratulations to our friend Karin Achtelstetter - new general secretary of WACC

Exactly 6 months ago today our good friend Karin Achtelstetter was ordained in the chapel of the ecumenical centre. That was the night Dr B was taken to hospital ...
Today the news that Karin will be moving to Toronto to take up the position as general secretary the World Association of Christian Communication. Congratulations Karin. Delighted for you, pleased to see a woman appointed to a leadership position.
Sad of course to lose you from Geneva and already in October 1st but looking forward to coming to Toronto to see you there. Good luck and Gottes Segen!

Monday, 19 July 2010

There are moments when I despise myself for being poetic rather than prophetic

This is a hard post to write.
Today I preached quite a good sermon but I'm not sure I preached the gospel.
I've just re-read my sermon and Julia Esquivel's phrase about the threat of resurrection has been going through my mind. I said reassuring things that could be taken one way or another - well the sermon was about ambiguity so this is perhaps not surprising! Have I preached when I only receive positive comments from the faithful?
In part of what she writes in Bread of Tomorrow Janet Morley says some critical things about how theology in rich countries tends towards poetry rather than the concrete and actual - particularly concerning the resurrection.
I am not sure that I threatened anyone with resurrection this morning, certainly I avoided the actual and I suppose I played the game of being well-behaved and writing something "pretty" or "impressive" and hoped somehow that people would read between the lines.
I think once, quite a long time ago, my preaching used to be more earthy and perhaps also more earthed.
This morning instead of choosing the "beautiful and powerful yet ambiguous" beatitudes I should have dared to choose to preach on Matthew 18:23-35, but I didn't. So here it is - I can't offer you the sermon I didn't preach but the text is pretty powerful in its own right. I can dream about what I might have said ... what I should have said. It would not have been poetic.
The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant
‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” 27And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.” 29 Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. normal; When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?”
And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.

A sermon about ambiguity and the beatitudes

An attempt at living with ambiguity – sermon by Jane Stranz
Text: Matthew 5 1-12

At times of particular personal distress
At times when I seek structure and discipline
At times when I want the comfort of the familiar

I read the Beatitudes

I find there neither easy consolation nor cheap grace
No hard and fast truth
But I do find simple yet complex spiritual poetry
And the ambiguous outline of the faith I seek to profess
Here are words which move me powerfully
Yet I would not claim to fully comprehend them, to understand their secret
A triumph of liminal, ambiguous faith
Or perhaps not even a triumph at all
but just strength in weakness and contradiction

So this morning as I invite you to reflect on the messy, complex contradictory nature of life
And think about how you find meaning, consolation, structure and comfort in the face of all of that

And to do that I invite you to come with me to the beach - after all it's holiday time and I realised that it’s the perfect place to go to experience ambiguity and liminality

At the beach that which is seemingly hard - the rock - meets that which is seemingly soft - the water
There we discover the power of the soft sea
Turning rock to sand
The permanence of cliffs which fall into the ocean
Even the tides are not at the same time every day
Don’t go to the beach if you want things to stay put
The open sky changes colour and contour
The wind bites or kisses our faces
The beach is a raw place, almost like a desert
It’s a place of shifting sands, dunes and landscapes, of permanent impermanence
Yet it is also a deeply fertile place
Since the dawn of humanity coastlines have been places where people have settled to harvest what the land and ocean produce together.
In our modern time the beach is also a place of recreation and relaxation
Of barbecues and volley ball

In many monastic communities and in many part of what we call the modern new monasticism
It is in the middle of the day, at the heart of work and life that the beatitudes are prayed
An affirmation that spiritual truth needs to be sought not in cathedrals of purity but in the ambiguous and sometimes terrible grind of daily life.

The beatitudes are not a prayer for fundamentalist people of faith
They are a call to people to live out their faith
One of the versions of the Beatitudes that I particularly enjoy reading is the French translation by André Chouraqui who is Jewish – instead of Blessed he translates the Greek Makarios as “En marche”.
It took Archbishop Elias Chacour – a Palestinian Christian – to explain to me that Chouraqui’s Jewish translation into French is actually closer to the Aramaic, Hebrew term "ashreï" that Jesus would have used rather than the Greek "makarioï" which in French or English is often rendered as happy or blessed. But "ashreï" has rather the meaning get up or get going, debout or en marche in French.
Ah … the ambiguity of a Palestinian Christian understanding a French Jewish translation of the Bible more deeply than so many others…

The Beatitudes particularly at this reflective holiday time can help us develop an engaged spirituality of the threshold, of the in-between, of the ambiguous
An engaged spirituality of infinite patience which tries to learn to live with incoherence.

Theologians haves different ways of talking about living in this ambiguous place of the threshold
Jürgen Ebach – whose name I only realize now is actually an anagram of beach – calls one of his books:
Remembered future and a hoped for past
„Erinnerte Zukunft and erhoffte Vergangeheit“
The threshold is the ambiguous place we look back from and forwards from
The past will always be part of the future and strangely the future is also part of the past

As we seek to practise an engaged spirituality of the threshold
the Beatitudes help us to “set out” into the ambiguity of life, to be blessed and become blessed
As we reflect on the threshold and the beach
It is not all about finding resources from within ourselves
We are not alone
Christ himself is waiting for us at the beach – even if it is a lakeside rather than an ocean beach - inviting us to a barbecue of bread and fish. Accompanying us into the further ambiguity of our lives.

After all, who is the Risen One other than ambiguous, unambiguous truth and compassion?

Blessed are those who dare to live the ambiguity of faith
Blessed are those who realize that to trust means to risk
Blessed are those who fail and yet still seek to go forwards.

And I end these half thought out reflections on ambiguity with part of a poem by the Irish Roman Catholic theologian, John O’Donohue

The Inner History of a Day (excerpt)

We seldom notice how each day is holy place
Where the eucharist of the ordinary happens,
Transforming our broken fragments
Into an eternal continuity that keeps us.

Somewhere in us a dignity presides
That is more gracious than the smallness
That fuels us with fear and force,
A dignity that trusts the form a day takes.

So at the end of this day, we give thanks
For being betrothed to the unknown
And for the secret work
Through which the mind of the day
And the wisdom of the soul become one

copyright (c) Jane Stranz/WCC

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Greetings from Vienna where the men in my life are meeting

Here's a picture of my gorgeous brother Richard who like Dr B is in Vienna this weekend for the international AIDS conference. Richard is normally based in Paris with the organisation AIDES.

Meanwhile Dr B has been in Vienna to write for the pre-conference for Faith Organisations meeting held by the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance. Read some of what he's been writing here.

10 reasons why men should not be ordained

Hat-tip to my colleague John Baxter-Brown who posted the link to Theopoetic musings10 reasons why men shouldn't be ordained. Here are the first 5 - and of course I take these no more seriously than if the word "woman" replaced the word "man".

10. A man’s place is in the army.

9. For men who have children, their duties might distract them from the responsibilities of being a parent.

8. Their physical build indicates that men are more suited to tasks such as chopping down trees and wrestling mountain lions. It would be “unnatural” for them to do other forms of work.

7. Man was created before woman. It is therefore obvious that man was a prototype. Thus, they represent an experiment, rather than the crowning achievement of creation.

6. Men are too emotional to be priests or pastors. This is easily demonstrated by their conduct at football games and watching basketball tournaments.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Nothing can separate us from the love of God - solidarity in depression

A good friend phoned me on my mobile, she's never phoned me before, I didn't recognise the number but as soon as I heard her voice I knew she was getting in touch to offer consolation. I have been crying in recent days, feeling sad and as if the future has drifted out of my grasp. I'm normally rather noisy and upbeat, I suppose people get worried when this British woman can't control her tears.
My friend is a wiser woman than I am, she listened to my as usual incoherent pain and then warned me she was going to be unfair, "this is mean what I'm going to say you know, but really Jane, nobody has died and you know even if they had we believe that death will not conquer or have the last word."
My friend did not offer this tritely, I know her story and the death and loss she continues to bear. But she offered it out of deep compassion, her way of calling me back to life. It reminded me of the words I have read next to countless graves:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:37-38

Meanwhile as I return to blogging and reading I also came across this prayer on Steve Taylor's blog and found it quietly inspiring and reassuring.

Father God,
it is hard to hope each morning,
to look forward to new treasures and mercies,
discovered when we are alive to your presence in all that we encounter.

Open our minds to the endless possibilities of life and power and thought.
Help us to meet you in our everyday life, in our anxieties and difficulties,
for you are there with us in our pain and sorrow.

Lift us from despair to new hope. Restore and renew us each returning day,
so that we may find joy in our journey with you.


A prayer from the Mozarabic Sacramentary (10th century) (Hat tip)

on blogging and generosity and all that

Apologies for my repeated absence from blogging here over the past month. Let's just say life has been complex and rather busy and I gave my "élan" (what a lovely French word that is and how I hate to have to try and translate it) to other work. It has also been very hot and for anyone with MS this means you get a bit slow now and again.

Meanwhile I have finally found a bit of time to get back to reading other blogs - for a while I thought that everyone I enjoyed reading seemed to have given up on blogging. Fortunately J.K. Gayle hasn't stopped but seems to have become a multiple personality with several blogs including Mind your language. Not sure I shall have time to read everything but I'm relieved he's still out there giving me ideas about what I should read. Over on Facebook he's also encouraging folk to donate blood to the local blood bank. Obviously a multilayered, engaged, intellectual sort of guy who loves his family and friends. If it weren't for blogging I wouldn't know he existed.

Today I've been reading reviews of Clay Shirky's book Cognitive surplus: Creativity and generosity in a connected age. Charles Leadbeater's review in the New Statesmen ends:

The web still has vast untapped civic potential. But that potential will be snuffed out unless we stand up for a free, public, open web against the encroachments of companies and governments. Cognitive Surplus tells us why that battle is worth fighting.

I love the way his review begins with Songs of Praise and moves through his son teaching him something he's just learned from the internet.

One of the reasons I like blogging and tweeting etc. is that there is an enormous amount of generosity in the systems, the fabulous amount of information and opinion out there. It's fun simply to be part of it, maybe it just gives me the illusion of being part of something - and it's interesting I notice even just typing this - blogging make me happy - I've been depriving myself of that in recent weeks and it hasn't been good for me. Perhaps it's like that for loads of other folk out there too - blogging facebooking and all the rest of it unleashes a little bit of our creativity and gives us an outlet for musings and humour.

Anyway more passing thoughts from me soon as I get back to finding my voice.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Uruguay may be out or perhaps not quite - but God's playfulness remains

I've not been able to keep up posting all the liturgies from worship in the ecumenical centre chapelt in recent weeks but clearing through my email box I'm managing to piece most of them together now. Tonight I discovered some fun sermon notes on football hope and religion by my colleague Guillermo Kerber who is from Uruguay.
In his notes he quotes
Eduardo Galeano, an Uruguayan writer asks, “What do football and God have in common? The devotion of the believers and the rejection of many intellectuals”

There's also a good liturgy which amongst other things celebrates God's essential playfulness.

Oh dear Uruguay have just not made it through to the final but it was a great end to the match.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Saying goodbye ... sort of ...

The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time on and for evermore. (Ps 121.8)

I seem to have been saying goodbye to people rather a lot over the past eight or nine months. I'm not very good at it - perhaps it's my way of resisting change - if I don't say goodbye maybe folk I really like won't move on! Silly really because I'm also a person who has moved on quite often in my life.

Tomorrow morning our friend Colin Williams will preach at the ecumenical centre before moving away from Geneva and going to be team rector in Ludlow, a beautiful historic town which is part of the distant view from my parents' house. Colin is going "home" - even if in many ways for him home is further north in England. As I prepare to say good bye to him, part of me is sad to lose another good friend from the propinquity of my daily life here in the bassin lémanique and another part of me is jealous of his sense of "home".

Last year I also nearly went "back" to work in Britain, but decided against it right at the last moment. I didn't write about that here for all sorts of reasons - it was a bit of a personal crisis for me - a difficult time and one which made me realise just how much France and perhaps in particular the French Reformed Church are where I feel "at home", at least at this time in my life. If I move away this is the base I feel I will come back to.

About 12 years ago a very good colleague who ministered in a neighbouring Reformed parish (please note "neighbouring" in the French Reformed context tends to mean between 60 and 100km away!) moved to a new charge in the south of France. I remember putting the phone down after speaking to him and his wife just before they moved house and bursting into tears. I was sad to lose a colleague and sad too because in ministry life is so full that it is very hard to find time for friendships with other ministers. What we had had was a rare time of what the French call "complicité" and it ended when he moved away. We're still pleased to see each other when we meet up, we still occasionally share a great book with one another by post. But work and the regular daily contacts in our lives mean that "complicité" is simply something from the past to give thanks for. I still miss him and miss the way we worked together and the way we could have gone on working together. My tears were also an expression of the loneliness of ministry - it's not easy and it sure ain't easy without colleagues you can trust.
Sometimes today too when people move on I grieve for a future that will no longer be.

They say that home is where the heart is and if that is so then each of my friends who moves away and onwards - to Canada and New Zealand, Romania and South Africa, the UK, Germany, Finland, Norway, Brazil, Kenya ... - takes a bit of my heart and my sense of home with them. In the 12 years since my friend and colleague set off for ministry in the south of France the only compensation for saying goodbye that I have found is that sometimes relationships with those who move away actually become deeper. Facebook, sms, email and fleeting visits means we actually exchange more ... but this isn't always the case. So perhaps I shall have to try to find my sense of "home" in the relationships and put a bit more time into building those up. In the meantime I should certainly learn to say goodbye in a more heartfelt and generous way.