Monday, 30 August 2010

There were these three friends ...

Rogate Mshana preached on justice and greed this morning, inspired in part by the harsh words of Psalm 12 and the hopeful but judging words of Habakkuk.

The faithful are people who show faith, are loyal, show awareness of the truth and are trustworthy. They keep their promises and “walk the talk”. The faithful are those who uphold the truth and stand for the accuracy of facts. Of course the term “faithful” also refers to those who believe in God. In short they are believers in a given religion. The text we have said together from Psalm 12 offers us a combination of these definitions of who the faithful are. As faithful believers, we should also seek to embrace the first meaning, by which I mean that as believers in God we need also to be people who show faith, loyalty, keep promises and are trustworthy. What is interesting is that there are many who are not believers but are faithful in the sense that they embrace the values just described.

Rogate always adds a story from the oral tradition when he speaks and this morning was no different. He challenged us to think about whether as Christians we accommodate the world or try to stay true to the gospel.
There were three Christian friends who set out on a long journey together in an African country which was a majority Muslim country, we'll call them John, Andrew and Peter. They walked far through quite desolate country and were tired and hungry as they approached civilisation. John and Peter realised though that the house they were going in to in the village they were approaching would be a Muslin household and they decided to change their names and become Abdullah and Saheed. Andrew decided to keep his name and remain Andrew. They were welcomed into the household early in the afternoon, tired and hungry. However, as it was Ramadan only Andrew was offered food to eat. The two friends who had changed their names to fit in had to wait until sundown for food ...
Rogate told his story with a smile and didn't try to get any moralistic message out of it - it spoke volumes about hospitality, and challenged us to think in many ways about what part of ourselves we change in order to "adapt" the values of the gospel to society.

Rogate ended by saying:

This is where the ecumenical movement has to stand firm, to take on itself the mandate given by God through the prophets such as Habbakuk, to rekindle the faithful to do the right thing. The ecumenical movement cannot be vague – the prophets were not! The ecumenical movement cannot be double hearted when it speaks about eradicating poverty and working for justice – the prophets were not. The ecumenical movements must not stop calling evil and greed by their name – the prophets did not. Simply put, the ecumenical movement has to be faithful to the mandate that comes down to us as Christians from the prophets and the psalmists and most of all through the life and message of Jesus Christ, the liberator.

Full text of the sermon here, liturgy here.

Arrivals, departures and blessings ...

There are many people in our circle of friends moving on from Geneva at the moment. Fortunately there are also others arriving but for now the round of leaving parties is in swing.
I am not good at such events, not clever at saying good bye and not great at keeping in touch with folk.
Today a leaving colleague kissed me goodbye and smiled gently at me. She offered me lovely affirming words about the importance of the work of translation and told me what her memory of me was ... I realised afterwards that I had been blessed in a very special way. My friend promised to pray for me and asked also for prayers herself ... a reciprocity of need and dependency on Anne Lamott's "whatever" and "ah well" ... ahh prayer ...
And I recognised within myself as so often my ability to be moved in my mind and yet somehow never let the consolation of such blessing touch the depths of my spirit. Why am I so resistant to letting myself be consoled, do I believe I don't deserve balm?

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Whatever ... Ah well ... and any other definitions of prayer

Yesterday morning I really enjoyed prayer for the day by Martyn Percy.
He began by talking about Anne Lamott's description of morning prayer: "whatever" and evening prayer "ah well".
Towards the end he said something along the lines of prayer doesn't change things but it changes the way we face things.
Perhaps that's why I keep on trying it.
Anyway, well worth a listen if you've got two minutes to spare. Here.

Someone's crying Lord, Kumbaya ...

This week in chapel we have been singing "kumbaya" as a response during prayers of intercession. Dr Manoj Kurian put together a liturgy reflecting on the heaviness or lightness of the yoke we carry ...
He wrote these prayers ...

Song: Someone’s crying Lord Kumbaya

Someone’s crying Lord!
Crying, in Pakistan and China
Crying, hungry, homeless and dispossessed
Crying, oppressed and exploited
Crying of shame and exclusion
Crying in the streets, homes, fields and factories
Crying, abused and violated
Hear their cries Lord
Help us to hear their cries too and share the pain
Help us to respond and accompany our sisters and brothers
Someone’s crying Lord, Kumbaya!

Song: Someone’s dying Lord, Kumbaya

Someone’s dying Lord!
Dying because of neglect and callousness
Dying because of greed and selfishness
Dying because girls and women are taken for granted
Dying of preventable diseases
Dying of unhealthy lifestyles
Dying as lives are cut short by natural and man made disasters
Lord, save humanity from untimely death
Lord, help us to save lives
Someone’s dying Lord, Kumbaya!

Song: Someone’s walking Lord, Kumbaya

Someone’s walking Lord!
Walking the talk of justice and equity
Walking to uphold dignity and respect
Walking the path your Son chose
Walking with and living the joy of people
Walking with and sharing the burdens of communities
Walking the path to unity, in faith hope and love
Help us to walk this journey Lord!
Walk with us Lord!
Someone’s walking Lord, Kumbaya!

Song: Someone’s praying Lord, Kumbaya

Someone's praying Lord!
Praying in tears and anger
Praying in frustration and weakness
Praying for strength and endurance
Praying for wisdom and discernment
Praying for good health and peace of mind
Praying for churches and the people of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia
Praying to heal the divisions among people and to ease the burden of history
Praying for the recovery of livelihoods, resurgence of hope and peace in communities
Lord we pray , guide each step we take today
Someone’s praying Lord, Kumbaya! Manoj Kurian

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Of guilt, gladness and life ...

I have not been blogging as regularly in recent months, partly pressure of work, partly depression, partly other unnameable stuff. In recent days though I've not been blogging because I've been reading and that has been simply wonderful.
Anyway blogging is good for me so I better get back to it...
We've been away for a week and it's been great. Liverpool was gloriously invogorating and uplifting, we did lots and had a good time with family. Then we had three nights at Watford Junction and managed to visit Gertie, my aunt. She is completely bed-ridden, not happy and has not been well at all recently. I haven't seen her for far too long. A source of guilt, I selfishly don't make time for those closest to me. Not good.
On Saturday afternoon we made it together in to London and the South Bank. The weather was not brilliant but we ate the Festival Hall overlooking the Thames and then wandered around the National Film Theatre, including this exhibition which was strangely moving and compelling, about migration and memory.
I'm glad we were away, it's good to be back too and as ever I ponder life and guilt and the whole caboodle. Meanwhile I've had a fascinating day editing papers on indigenous and feminist theology. What more could a woman want - apart from a beer and a pizza with her beloved at the end of the day?
And did I mention we visited various book shops while away, more soon about what I'm reading.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Dance and language as sculpture ...

Coming out of the Picasso exhibition at the Tate Liverpool yesterday we made our way around the "this is sculpture" exhibitions on the other floors which were wonderfully exciting and great fun. You can explore the exhibition here.
The first hall I explored was curated by poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy and called the sculpture of language. It was dedicated to the memory of the wonderful Adrian Henri and explored

ways in which artists have deployed, dissected and engaged with language, by making reference to literature, by exploring inscription and typography, and not least by using words to convey meaning or by creating works that are metaphors for communication itself ... As a contribution to the display, Carol Ann Duffy has written a new sonnet entitled POETRY that is integrated within the exhibition and has devised an installation that invites the audience to re-arrange and alter her sonnet with additional words to create an original and unlimited poem.

I liked discovering the very eclectic displays - from a sculpture by Anthony Gormley called Toast (in which an impression of a person was like the eaten out filling between mouldy bread) to a splendidly titled piece called "Débricollage" by Jean Tinguely. for a woman who loves words this was all very satisfying.

The next gallery involved going into a sculpture gallery which had been revamped as a dance hall with mirror ball and headphones for all visitors and a choice of DJ mixes on the A or B channels. The sculptures were interpretations of the human form and you bopped around looking at the displays, moving to the music on your headphones your own human form was reflected back at you in mirrors - the kind that make you look rather thinner than you are! We became our own idealised sculptures. It was funky and envigorating!
It also gave me lots of ideas about how to "curate" things for worship as well ...

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Of Picasso, peace pigeons, scapegoats and skulls,

We have had a brilliant day pottering around the Albert Dock in glorious sunshine and bracing wind. Mainly we've spent the day at the Tate Liverpool. We went to see the special Picasso Peace and Freedom exhibition which is on until the end of the month. It was very good. Great fun to read the old issues of the French communist newspaper l'Humanité which formed part of the focus on Picasso and peace.
I was intrigued and shocked by the obsession with death and sex in many of the images, but given the experience of war, the occupation and the Spanish civil war this is not surprising. The dead cocks representing France, the goats heads and skulls, the skulls, bodies lying in disarray, the destruction and in justice of war ...
And then the doves, all of these pretty doves - though I rather liked a quote from Picasso himself saying why are these birds symbols of peace when they are so vicious. Yet these symbolic drawings, and there were many, many of them - became as much part of his legacy as the iconic cubist work. Fascinating as the exhibition was I felt the focus on peace and freedom seemed to make the curators put on rose-tinted specs when it came to some of the more questionable sides of the great artist's life - especially his treatment of women.
Anyway, we enjoyed looking at the Picasso designs for the various peace conferences and also the way he reworked other artist's work - Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe for instance.
So many striking images and much thought-provoking content and I left wondering - perhaps a little cynically - whether an artist who courts publicity can be truly free ...
Find out more here.

Identity and the rule of law ...

For the past couple of years I have been travelling with an electronic passport. I don't like it.
Every time it goes into one of those machines that reads it I think of the salvific possibilities of human error and creativity. today, unless you really know how to falsify chips etc then all of those folk saved by forged papers during the 2nd World War wouldn't stand a hope ...
The local passport and identity service is housed on the street where we are staying in Liverpool and rather surprisingly it has a street art installation of these small portholes of pictures of British citizens of very diverse origins, their names, places and years of birth are given. At night time the portholes are lit up in blue. Given some of the terrible rhetoric around "foreigners" and "immigrants", given how terribly difficult it is to get a visa to this country I found this artwork surprisingly counter-cultural - perhaps it is an attempt to foster multi-culturalism (now often much despised). Anyway these small blue portholes do give me some hope that all is not lost, that humanity still values decency and inclusivity - even when the terrible forms people have to fill in and the rhetoric that is all too often heard seems to give a very different message. Long live the blue portholes of a different story of British identity.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

21 years ago tonight ...

Tonight we have been dining at 330 metres above Liverpool at the Panoramic.
It was simply wonderful, the views stunning the food utterly ambrosial and exquisite, the staff brilliant. We particularly enjoyed the French waiter who told us "Zay are all Scousers in the ze kitchen you know ... very good".
It was only when we came back to our room that I reminded Dr B that today was the anniversary of us deciding to get married.
Late in the night of the 17-18 August in 1989 we finally had a conversation that sort of ended (this of course is my version Dr B's would be a bit different) with me saying "if you're asking me to marry you ththe anen swer is yes:" and him replying something along the lines of "you could at least wait for me to actually ask!"
So tonight we drank champagne looking out over the amazing skyline of Liverpool, watching the sun set and the lights come on, and we thought back to Berlin 21 years ago. A wall was there and its existence led to us knowing we would be apart for the upcoming 12 months - Dr B's activities in the peace movement meant he had been banned from entering the former GDR. That day he had been escorted by GDR border police at Friedrichstrasse back to the West Berlin underground ...
Perhaps without this encoruagement he would never have half got around to almost asking the question!
Anyway 21 years later here we are watching the sunset and contemplating what the future may or may not hold ... it has been a good day whatever the future may hold.

Florence Nightingale as theologian and Liverpool's lady chapel exhibition

The Lady Chapel at Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral is currently housing an exhibiton by Alice Lenkiewicz on "noble women" - noble women is the theme of the women celebrated in the Lady Chapel's windows. I'm reading about them thanks to this great little book. One of the few working class women celebrated in the windows is Kitty Wilkinson who promoted practical hygiene and education in a selfless way. A statue of her is due to be erected. Kitty's story is less well-known than the story of Grace Darling pictured here or than Florence Nightingale whose legacy is better known and is also being highlighted this year as the 100th anniversary of her death is marked.

Nightingale was particularly remembered at the service in the Cathedral we attended - 13 August is the day she is remembered in the Anglican calendar. There is an excellent article by Rachael Kohn on Nightingale 's theology on the ABC religion and ethics site here.
Because my own view of Nightingale is so influenced by childhood tales of her heroic hospital reform in Scutari, I remained fairly ignorant about her theological writing. Judging by Kohn's piece it sounds as if I would have had much in common with her thinking - a deep spiritual longing combined with a broad church approach to understanding God.

"You say that mystical or spiritual religion is not enough for most people without outward form ... For myself, the mystical or spiritual religion as laid down by John's Gospel, however imperfectly I have lived up to it, was and is enough."
Kohn's piece is based on Val Webb's book Florence Nightingale: the making of a Radical Theologian (Chalice Press, 2002).
Perhaps one day hundreds of years into the future there will be other windows in other cathedrals depicting wonderful women - be they noble or not. Most of the "nobility" celebrated in the Liverpool windows was not so well behaved. Most of the women had to transgress to get anywhere ... this makes them a hard act to follow.

From Ravensbrück ... no commentary

Cutting the diamond - reflections on how to do advocacy

Ann Pettifor of the Jubilee 2000 campaign has brought out a book called Cutting the Diamond available as a pdf through Advocacy International

Advocacy International works with our clients to achieve their public interest and social responsibility goals. We bring our strengths and experience in advocacy, communications, design and policy development.
Really I'm posting this here to remind myself to get someone to write a review of it. It looks very interesting.

Monday, 16 August 2010

War - never doubt that it is personal

For all involved war is personal and two installations at the Imperial War Museum brought this home to me. The wall and doorway of suitcases in the area looking particularly at refugees and displacement. The second were the filing cabinet drawers each with a photo and name on them, most closed some open with objects belonging to the person inside.
War is always deeply, deeply personal in both triumph and tragedy, it simply and totally sets the agenda and is unrelenting.

Thinking about praying for peace amongst the shards of war

We spent large parts of today wandering around the Imperial War Museum North designed by Daniel Libeskind. It was a glorious sunny day in Mediterranean Manchester with the extraordinary architecture of the regenerated dock area reflected in the water of ship canal.
I shall post more photos of the building and the exhibitions but for now just this, which is in the entrance area and explains Libeskind's shards idea - a shattered world from which to contemplate the varied and terrible experience of war.
Wandering around the exhibition today I was thinking about a liturgy I'm supposed to be writing for the International Day of Prayer for Peace ... when 100s, 1,000s millions are killed how can we rebuild, where does the future lie?

Sunday, 15 August 2010

The "Great Space"

Four years ago we climbed to the top of the Anglican Cathedral tower - the views are stunning, and the walk past the bells very impressive - even if the steps are very hard on the calf muscles! This year they open the towers until 20.00 so you can see the views in the changing evening light. Highly recommended.

Today we attended worship and I went into the main body of the cathedral for the first time. It is quite extraordinary and I can understand why it is called the Great Space.

For a Protestant attending worship on the 15 August which is the assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary it was a strange service in parts - I'm fairly sure that I sang a hymn whose theology I really don't agree with at all at the beginning! For a service in praise of Mary and where the sermon focused in part on extraordinary women honoured in the Lady Chapel it struck me very forcibly that there were no women clergy with a role at the service. More about that at a later point though.
I was challenged by the way the Cathedral sells itself or opens itself up as a space - for arts and events, as a Liverpool space. Wonderful as the space is, knowing that it was built in the 20th century it does also come across as a bit of a folly - so huge, so few people now worshipping there ... yet somehow glorious.
And I loved singing Timothy Dudley Smith's glorious Tell out my soul ... at the end of the service. I was pleased that Fred Kaan's version of the Magnificat also got quoted in the sermon.
At the end of the service as the cross was processed out and the clergy and others officiating followed the whole congregation turns to face the western door. We received the final blessing as the clergy stood in the great space in perfect abd beautiful formation, an icon of worship soemhow ... I'm not normally into such things but today in this setting it worked well. It's good to go to church on holiday.

The Liver building seen from the Mersey Ferry

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Ferry cross the mersey ...

So this afternoon we took the "Ferry Cross the Mersey" to Seacombe Ferry and then the bus to New Brighton where there was a real seaside atmosphere. There were wonderful views on board the ferry and a great atmosphere with lots of families taking the journey across the water.
We had a lovely time sitting in Stephen's mother's garden watching Harry paint the gate and then eating with the family, admiring Tom's gardening and bike repairs, and Myra's delicious cooking. A gentle holiday sort of time. Wonderful.

A week ago a view over a field of wheat ...

Last Sunday morning I woke to this view from my room in Crêt Bérard - a field of wheat with a pathway leading to the alps and lake Geneva. Today I wake to a view onto offices in central Liverpool as we begin a week's holiday in the UK, visiting family and relaxing. I also woke to news that Russia has banned exprt of wheat today ... financial speculation on a basic food stuff has been well underway in recent weeks.
And this morning's lectionary reading is Matthew 6:19 Do not store up riches on earth ...

Tell that to the bankers speculating with a "commodity" that represents life for many life.
Food for life or life for money?

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Enjoying the great street art in Liverppol

I loved this great house mural in Liverpool - and think it's fabulous that it is for a beauty salon. Great Scouse humour!

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Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Job's anger and honesty

On Sunday morning in Crêt Bérard I heard an extraordinary sermon about the anger of Job. Pierre André Pouly the director of Crêt Bérard decided to try and apply some of what we had been learning in the seminar with Virginia Klein to the story of Job.
Pierre André began by looking at how Job is described at the beginning of the book of Job as "blameless" - the Hebrew is even stronger than that - Job would seem to be without fault. There's a long list of Job's possessions and lots of detail about the burnt offerings he assiduously makes to God just in case his children have done something wrong during the parties they habitually hold at certain times of the year.
Did Job not trust his children? Was he perhaps a little supersticious ... blameless but rather joyless perhaps?
At the end of the first chapter tragedy strikes and the trials of Job begin, at first he keeps his peace and does not blame God but as the skin disease affects him and his suffering continues and increases, goaded by his wife, he begins to wish he had never been born, to scream out against God. His friends sit with him, they give him "friendly" advice, he must have done something wrong ...
Job shouts, he is suicidal, he harrangues God. Chapter after chapter of it - biblical imprecation:
Therefore I will not restrain my mouth;
I will speak in the anguish of my spirit;
I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.

I loathe my life;
I will give free utterance to my complaint;
I will speak in the bitterness of my soul.

But I would speak to the Almighty,
and I desire to argue my case with God.
As for you, you whitewash with lies;
all of you are worthless physicians.

And Job is angry with the counsel of his friends and with the action of God, with the way God seems to have decided his own fate but also more widely about how God seems to be ruling the world. And so it goes on, and on ... it makes for a pretty cathartic read I always find!

Then at the very end, as anger somehow seems spent, as perhaps something like wisdom may have been achieved, or perhaps only just a glimpse of understanding, God says something quite strange to Job's friends - and it is repeated - "only my servant Job has spoken truly".

Pierre André said it was as if Job's anger and rage, his questioning had actually pulled him back into proper relationship with God. Job's anger is his real unadapted emotion. God does not want "adapted, submissive children" but wants us to be fully ourselves, anger and all, so as to be able to enter into real relationship with him.
I'm very sad that Pierre André didn't have a text for his sermon - it was a tour de force and has given me much to think about as I ponder my life. Who though other than God can cope with such anger, even of one individual?

Monday, 9 August 2010

The assurance of things hoped for ...

Peter Prove who last month took over as the director of the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance,
preached about hope and faith at Monday prayers. He began:

... and we affirm again with the author of the book of Hebrews that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”.
This classic definition of the irreducible essence of faith was originally offered to an early Christian community struggling with persecution, marginalization and fear; a community in need of support; a community - like so many of us still today - yearning for concrete reassurance that the madness and lostness we see all around us and within us are not the last truth about the world, but only the next to last truth.
Taking examples from recent events in Australia and New Zealand Peter asked:
It's confusing. In which direction is the better country? ...
It's confusing. By what path may we approach the land of God's promise?
I felt particularly challenged by this phrase in Peter's sermon
Are we willing to be strangers and exiles on the earth, and to die in faith, not having received what was promised but having seen it and greeted it from afar?

God of Kiwis and Kangaroos and the Dolphin Christ

At morning prayers this morning Lucy D'Aeth wrote us some wonderful prayers - including a great blessing which had the phrase "God of kiwis and kangaroos". Her prayers of intercession were good too. Full liturgy here. Jill Hawkey led prayers and Peter Prove preached a great sermon, about which more in a later post.

We also sang two wonderful hymns I've never sung before. Singing of them made me think once more of Erik Routley's wonderful phrase "hymns are the folk tunes of the church militant". The first was called Where Mountains rise to open skies by Shirley Erena Murray. Here's an extract:

From broken word, from conflict stirred,
from lack of vision, set us free
to see the line of your design,
to feel creation’s energy.

The second new hymn to me is by Colin Gibson and called Where the road runs out
It spoke to me deeply today as we sang it but it also made me smile, I love the line "be the dolphin Christ"

Where the road runs out and the signposts end,
where we come to the edge of today,
be the God of Abraham for us;
send us out upon our way.
When the coast is left and we journey on
to the rim of the sky and the sea,
be the sailor’s friend, be the dolphin Christ;
lead us on to eternity.

You can find more details of New Zealand hymns here.
Hymns are the poetry of the church so often today they are replaced with songs. It was good to sing hymns this morning and be enlivened by words and music.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

The illusory perfect self and the prodigal son

I am spending the weekend out at Crêt Bérard which is a retreat and training centre of the Swiss Protestant church. It is set at the opposite end of lake Geneva and I have a lovely room with a balcony overlooking a field of wheat almost ready to harvest and looking out towards the alps. Idyllic, varied, cultured and certainly restorative. Just taking the short train journey here was a real pleasure.
I'm interpreting for a session on "Emotions and healing" led by American psychologist Virginia Klein. It's the third year I've done this. Ginny tries to get people to understand their feelings by identifying the feelings of self-hatred that can inhabit us and by describing this in terms of how as very young children we use our imagination to create "perfect self" - who can "please" our parents, "calm them", make them stay together, stop them being ill etc. Ginny keeps asking us - who is telling you to be a good girl? who is telling you you can save everyone? who is telling you to be perfect? all powerful? totally adapted? That perfect self inside you is an illusion created by an imaginative child but we carry these perfect selves around with us, they can become a destructive voice of self-hatred within us - making us feel we either have to be "heroes or zeroes".

I'm not sure I agree with the method completely but it helps people get in touch with their feelings and analyse them quickly and that has to be a good thing.

At the end of the Saturday evening the director of the Crêt Bérard centre Pierre André encouraged us to read the parable of the prodigal sons by trying to identify the different kinds of perfect selves that were operating for the father the older and the younger son in the story.
It was an interesting way into the text and helped us to see some of the emotional energy between the characters in the story, the adapted older son who submits to his father's idea of what family should be, the younger son's illusion of being all powerful and being able to remake his life all on his own ... It is only when the younger son finally comes home that any emotion is expressed at all.

65 gong rings for peace ...

Our service for Hiroshima day began and ended with 65 soundings of the gong for the 65th anniversary of the first atom bomb being used. The reverberating sound was impressive. You can find the liturgy and other material we used here. It was good to have people from within and outside the Ecumenical Centre.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Ecumenical centre Hiroshima Day

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Hiroshima Day - Ecumenical Centre

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Chapel Hiroshima Day

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English grafitti at the French bus stop

If you had one chance
one opportunity
to seize everything you ever wanted
one moment
would you capture it?
Or just let it slip?
You better lose yourself in the music ...

On the wall at Ferney's Avenue du Jura bus stop - where there is more grafitti in English than in French!
(And yes I do know it's by Eminem)

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Power pleasure or meaning?

So this evening I've been wondering which of the three schools of Vienese pyschotherapy I would rather follow ... Adler's Nietzschean doctrine of the will to power, Freud's will to pleasure, or Frankl's existentialist analysis that focuses on a will to meaning?

Ah well probably a mixture of the three ... in the face of chocolate I'll go for pleasure; in the face of suffering I'll keep on searching for meaning.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Passing thoughts on God making it pretty difficult to understand what's going on

to others I speak in parables, so that “looking they may not perceive,
and listening they may not understand.” (Luke 8:10)

In chapel this morning we read part of Luke chapter 8 and I spent quite some time in our moment of silence thinking about Mary Magdelene and the women who followed Jesus and the disciples and "who provided for them out of their resources". So much for our ideas about ancient societiesand women's role in them, the women following Jesus obviously had access to money and know how and knew how to make provision for the whole group. Interesting.

But the verse I read several times is the one at the top of this post - Jesus has been asked by the disciples for the meaning of the parable of the sower, he tells them that they have been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven and then he offers this pretty gnomic utterance. John Muddiman suggests that this means that Jesus used the parables to create discernment in some but to harden the heart of others.

I suppose in some ways it just throws me back to ambiguity, God wanting to be ambiguous, to not be fully understood even? Perhaps it could almost be about Jesus not pinning down or reducing interpretation to one single way of seeing things ... or perhaps that's just me pushing my own line!
Anyway it gave me more than pause for thought this morning and I'm glad I've revisited the verse at the end of the day.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

stuff ...

Today I ate chocolate with a friend in a few moments of shared pleasure. It was delicious, much needed and it helped us to talk.
As it says on the fax machine near my office "things are getting worse, please send chocolate."

Monday, 2 August 2010

Spiritual capital and educational blessing

This morning the Ecumenical Church Loan Fund led our worship in the person of their general secretary Irene Mutalima.
Our reflection was led by two people who collaborate in teh field of education Dr. Sam Rima from the Bethel Seminary in the USA who spoke about - Spiritual Capital, integral economics and sustainable development: The Path to Blessing! Sam director of the doctor of ministry programme and staff of the Center for Transformational Leadership. He's promised to send his reflection on in full to me and I'll post more about it when I've had a chance to re-read it. What was particularly interesting in both relfections this morning was the focus on blessing, how sharing power, sharing cpaital, sharing resources rather than accumulating things, objects or money can be the path to true blessing.
The second person to speak this morning introduced us to the TRANS4M Four World Center for Social Innovation, which is based here in Geneva. Education that Brings Blessing was the theme for Dr. Alexander Scheifer

When we talk about “blessing” then we suggest, however, to not only focus on the burning needs of a particular society, but also on the gifts (the “blessings”) that each society, each culture has received. Research and education, as we understand it, needs to build on and activate these particular gifts. In other words, the often isolated emphasis on “poverty”, to our mind, dramatically overshadows the existing wealth in a particular context, be it in form of local knowledge, wisdom, values or relationships.
Later over coffee it was interesting to hear colleagues talking about their own work in health, HIV or economic justice in similar terms. If we learn to value local experience, local knowledge and listen to people and not think that what "we" bring is the most important thing. Bringing out the value in others is where blessing begins.
Read more here.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Poetic, Prophetic and empowering leadership traits for a time of transition and systems failure

Regular readers of this blog know how much Paul Fromont's writing and round ups of theological and spiritual reflections at Prodigal Kiwis contribute to making up for the huge gaps in my own knowledge. About ten days ago Paul posted about the changing leadership challenges and competencies for today's church and world.
Paul points first of all to this post on Next Reformation which is a very stimulating essay by Leonard Hjalmarson looking at complexity in systems and the need for changed models - for revitalising the Ephesians 4 models - in the way we exercise leadership (see APEST on Over the centuries the church has concentrated on developing the shepherd and teacher roles and has found less and less place for apostolic, prophetic and evangelistic gifts. There's also a good reflection on what happens in organisations when systems fail.

The loss of those roles is attributed in part to the Christendom context – a stable and state religion did not know what to do with apostles and prophets and evangelists. I’m also convinced that Alan Roxburgh is right: in times of transition we need the poetic leader type. The poet, like Adam, helps us make sense of our experience. The word in the prologue of John tells how Jesus “became flesh and lived among us.”
I'm very interested in the idea of poetic leadership and can see lots of possibitlites for it - both within and beyond the church. I will have to revisit and re-read the articles linked to from Leonard's posts.

Meanwhile Paul Fromont has slightly reworked and enlarged upon the elements at the end of Leonard's post when looking at the competencies needed and challenges facing leadership - and not just in the churches. I particularly like the look of the Surfing the Edge of Chaos book he links to here, sounds like my sort of thing. That reminds me I've been doing some reading recently about the ancient goddess chaos ... must tap into some of that energy, could make for some interesting poetry!

  • Spirit – corporations are spiritual/material bodies. Health is maintained by unifying the two assets.
  • Purpose – The purpose of the organization is to create “social capital” by serving its telos. Leadership guards the ethos and ensures that the team knows its purpose. 

  • Creativity – The first and most important act is the creative act. Change, youthfulness and energy are requirements until death. 

  • Challenge and response – The task of leaders is to create or recognize the current challenge, respond creatively, and avoid a condition of ease. Reliance on yesterday’s success leads to decline. 

  • Disturb the system – The urgency to decide and act promptly leads to expansion and advance. Surfing the Edge of Chaos - Cover Equilibrium is death [for more on this from a business perspective see the excellent Surfing the Edge of Chaos – church leaders could read it equally profitably]
  • Unity and diversity – Advancing cultures are socially unifying and become diverse in character. Leaders resist the tendency to homogeneity in personalities and skills. 

  • Specialized competence – Specialized knowledge and skills and the integration of those competencies must be pursued vigorously.
  • Efficient administration – is required to achieve integration as differentiation increases. Unchecked administration leads to bureaucracy and self-protection. 

  • End Command and Control – Decisions should be made by those on-the-spot.

Being edified by thoughts about evil ...

Thanks to Nick Baines I recently came across Terry Eagleton's book On Evil and until a copy arrives in our household I've been posting some of the quotes that Nick has on his blog to my facebook page. For starters here's a bit from the blurb:

For many enlightened, liberal-minded thinkers today, and for most on the political left, evil is an outmoded concept. It smacks too much of absolute judgements and metaphysical certainties to suit the modern age. In this witty, accessible study, the prominent Marxist thinker Terry Eagleton launches a surprising defence of the reality of evil, drawing on literary, theological and psychoanalytic sources to suggest that evil, no mere medieval artefact, is a real phenomenon with palpable force in our contemporary world. In a book that ranges from St. Augustine to alcoholism, Thomas Aquinas to Thomas Mann, Shakespeare to the Holocaust, Eagleton investigates the frightful plight of those doomed souls who apparently destroy for no reason. In the process, he poses a set of intriguing questions. Is evil really a kind of nothingness? Why should it appear so glamorous and seductive? Why does goodness seem so boring? Is it really possible for human beings to delight in destruction for no reason at all?
As I was reading Nick's original post I realised that I hadn't thought much about evil - perhaps not something a theologian should admit. However the parts Nick Baines quoted really brought a smile of understanding to me. I felt strangely edified by thinking about evil in the way Eagleton seems to be suggesting - oddly heartening. Beginning to think about evil also led to a friend sharing an interesting quote from Karl Barth with me:
"Die Torheit des Toren verbirgt sich mit sicherem Instinkt und Griff in ihr Gegenteil, sie gibt sich als Weisheit aus." Karl Barth, in KD IV/2 §65 Des Menschen Trägheit und Elend 2
Anyway for now here is part of what Nick Baines originally posted - I think these quotes are just brilliant!

[Evil] is boring because it keeps doing the same dreary thing, trapped as it is between life and death. But evil is also boring because it is without real substance. It has, for example, no notion of emotional intricacies. Like a Nazi rally, it appears spectacular but is secretly hollow. It is as much a parody of genuine life as the goosestep is a parody of walking.

Isn’t that perfect? He goes on:

Evil is philistine, kitsch-ridden, and banal. It has the ludicrous pomposity of a clown seeking to pass himself off as an emperor. It defends itself against the complexities of human experience with a reach-me-down dogma or a cheap slogan.

Wonderful! And then:

Hell is not a scene of unspeakable obscenties. If it were, it might well be worth applying to join. Hell is being talked at for all eternity by a man in an anorak who has mastered every detail of the sewage system of South Dakota.

I think I’ve met him!

But Eagleton, taking in Aquinas, Augustine and Blake, goes on to conclude:

…evil is a kind of spiritual slumming… The evil, then, are those who are deficient in the art of living.

You can find further reviews of Eagleton's book here, here and here - that final one is a review both of Eagleton's book and of one on Pessimism by Roger Scruton.