Sunday, 31 October 2010

Chichester Psalms for Haiti

Last night we attended the wonderful Psalms for Haiti event at the cathedral in Geneva. It was very moving - beginning with an extraordinary noise for 35 seconds representing the noise of the earthquake.
A superlative choir and wonderful readers sang and spoke the Psalms in many forms.
Canon Ogé Beavoir, Dean of the Episcopal Theological Seminary, Port-au-Prince spoke movingly of the Haitian people's spirit and also of their need. the event was a fund raiser for rebuilding the Anglican Cathedral and its related social and educational facilities which were extensive before the quake.

The event opened my ears to Leonard Bernstein's Chichester Psalms, which I've never heard before. Last night's choir and organ gave at least as good a rendition as the full orchestra youtube version I've posted here. I also really enjoyed Arvo Pärt's de Profundis and all of the rest of the music and readings - especially the readings in creole. Thanks folks, it was WONDERFUL!
I've posted the full order in French and English here.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Psalms for Haiti 30 September Cathédrale St Pierre Genève 18.00

All are warmly invited to 'Psalms for Haiti', an ecumenical celebration of music and meditation.
When: 30 October 2010 (TOMORROW) at 18h00
Where: St Pierre Cathedral in Geneva's old town
The event will commemorate those who died in January’s earthquake. Choral music and accompanying words of reflection will facilitate a spiritual exploration of some of the best- and least-known Biblical psalms.

While entrance is free, a retiring collection will raise funds for the reconstruction of Port-au-Prince’s Episcopal Cathedral complex. Personal testimonies and a multi-media display will provide information about the wide range of social and educational projects run by the Cathedral - both before and after the earthquake.

If you can't attend but still wish to donate to the reconstruction efforts, the Swiss postal account of ARCH (Association anglicane pour la reconstruction de la Cathédrale épiscopalienne de la Sainte Trinité en Haïti) is:

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Beautiful sunny autumn days

As I walk across the garden to my office in the Ecumenical Centre Philip Potter Library, I walk past two beautiful Japanese Acers. They have been giving me enormous pleasure on a daily basis for many, many years. On the day this was take the "bise" was blowing strongly yet the leaves persist for a few more days their extraordinary changing colour heartening in the freezing of the encroaching dark of the autumn days. Bright sunshine and autumn colours are really part of the joy of recent days, alongside stunning sunrises and sunsets.
Every year another branch of these small but quite old trees dies back, as I wonder and rejoice at the colours I also worry that perhaps next year I will no longer be able to admire their wonderful leaves.

Posted by Picasa

Water privatisation no thank you!

Seen at the tram stop on our recent weekend trip to Berlin!

Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Le jour de la nuit - the day of the night

This Saturday is "Le jour de la nuit" across the whole of France. The idea is to switch off all municipal lights so as to be able to observe the night sky, the stars and enjoy the biodiversity of darkness. It really sounds like fun. Ferney is going to take part, though not Geneva as the idea doesn't seem to have spread to Switzerland yet.
There are several fun things taking place including a night time walk to look at excessive private lighting and the problems of light pollution. The local astronomy club is setting up telescopes in the garden of the Maison St Pierre next door to where we live so that we can all look at the winter night sky. Find out more here.
Meanwhile I just love the play on words of "le jour de la nuit" which means both the day of the night and also the daylight of the night. In spiritual terms I also love the idea of the night and the darkness also being holy. I think Sautrday night might be quite fun - and also the big switch off will really help to reduce carbon emissions - maybe we should be having more days of the night. That night is also the night we all get to sleep an hour extra as the clocks go back, so the switch off will last an hour longer too!

Monday, 25 October 2010

Beech, lime, birch, hazel and oak - an arboretum of angels and an invitation to dance

One of the wonderful things about being in Berlin for 28 hours was that our hotel was less than 5 minutes away from where Stephen used to live in Georgenkirchstrasse. The former East Berlin Missionshaus is now the Berlin Brandenburg Church's offices. The church and theological book shop that was always there is still open and doing good trade it would seem. I remember visiting Stephen in 1984 and buying my first book by Christa Wolf from the shop.
On Saturday morning I did of course buy books - a couple by my former professor Friedrich Schorlemmer and one by Margot Kässmann - but I was particularly looking for the little wooden angels you can see pictured here which come with accompanying cards, biblical verses and quotes by theologians. In the past I've always bought them for other people but this time I wanted to keep at least one for myself ... I've still not decided which it will be though.
These little Schutzengeln or guardian angels have different names - your angel of freedom, your angel of clarity, your angel of constancy, your angel of departure, your angel of equanimity ... and many more. Each one is made out of a different kind of wood which is supposed to go with the idea that the particular angel represents. For instance the angel of clarity is cut from lime tree wood which is both easy to cut and very strong. I was also though fascinated to learn that in Germany there is an old tradition of planting limes on the village or town square, the place of gathering but also building dance floors into the tree. The Tanzlinde also probably served as the place of judgement or court. The kind of clarity that also invites all to the public dance seems like a wonderfully angelic thing to me. Reading about it reminded me of the role of the sycamore as the place of religious gathering in the gospels. Trees are like public buildings in old communities and these extraordinary old Tanzlinden look as imposing as some old market halls.
As I read the angel cards I have brought back with me it strikes me that in any human life we need a whole arboretum of guardian angels to encourage us in difficult and challenging times, helping us ever to go into the future. I love botanical gardens and arboretums, so next time I go to one I shall try to learn more about the qualities of the different trees and think about them being messengers of those qualities in my life. An invitation to continue the dance.
You can see more images of the dancing limes here.

Knock knock - is God there?

Our wonderfully upbeat and authentic colleague Faautu Talapusi gave a bravura performance at worship this morning. It was a beautifully simply crafted service with readings from Psalm 121 and Luke 11:5-13. The idea of the neighbour knocking at night time on the door is what set Faautu writing her poetic sermon which was very much also performance art with each knock knock accompanied by knocking on the lectern:

Knock, knock…
Knock, knock…
The times I am facing are rough
The times I am facing times are tough

What I noticed now re-reading the sermon is that somehow as the poem progresses it is no longer an individual in distress knocking but somehow God knocking - hey notice I'm here, see how I try somehow to hold things together for you.

Knock, knock
Knock, knock…
God’s love is ever persistent and unconditional…for you and me

Read the full text here.

Thanks Faautu

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Henning Mankell's Italian shoes and the gentle hand of love and meaning

"There are two sorts of truth: trvialities, where the opposite is obviously impossible, and deep truths, which are characterised by their opposite also being a deep truth." Niels Bohr

We are on the train from Berlin back to Switzerland. I've just finished reading Henning Mankell's wonderful book Italian Shoes. It's always a little embarassing to be reading on a train and find yourself moved to tears, but by the time the book ended with a satisfying new beginning my eyes were streaming, somehow thought my heart was smiling.

I'm used to reading Mankell's detective fiction which is great if a little bloody, but have been a bit disapointed with a couple of the other novels by him which I've read. Italian Shoes is different.
I'm not going to give the plot away - in some ways there is no plot but it is very deeply about the threads of life being picked up again. Not without extreme pain, not without violence, not without wrong moves and death but there is a powerful sense of future and meaning by the time the written story ends and the future starts to open up.
I've been wanting to find a really good book that would satisfy me in the way only a good novel can and as so often happens I found it in the railway station book shop and didn't know I had fallen on treasure when I bought it. I just thought "Ah a Mankell I haven't read yet ..."
It is deeply life-affirming book but not at all in an easy or trite way. Hope comes in the form of Italian shoes but not in some kind of consumerist way. The book charts the freezing and thawing of the Swedish island landscape, the painful thawing and flowering of rebuilt relationships.
One of my theology professors used to say - read novels to understand theology. As with all good fiction Mankell's book is not only about one theme but about complexities woven together in the compelling stories of human beings and their interchange with each other and the natural world.
Three quotes begin the book - one is that at the beginning of this post from the physicist Niels Bohr the final one is from Swedish writer Sigfrid Siwertz and goes "Love is a gentle hand which slowly pushes fate to one side." A wonderful idea beautifully expressed - if only it could be more true!

And the third quote which actually opens the book is all about shoes ...
"When the shoe fits, you don't think about the foot" Chuang Chou.

This book really fitted me at the moment, its concerns, its tone and the surprising theme of hope ... quite simply a good read, what a blessing.

Sunrise ... in Berlin

Yesterday morning's sunrise in Berlin seen from the Hauptbahnhof as I arrived from my overnight sleep from Basel. Such a surprise and blessing to have had glorious weather for these few stolen hours in my favourite city. Now as we listen to church bells ringing across Friedrichshain we get ready to return to Geneva, but it has been wonderful to be here, to be with frineds and to think about the past and the future.

sunrise ... in Grand Saconnex

Yes if you look carefully you can just see the Mont Blanc in the distance. This was Friday morning's view as I walked from the bus stop to work ... a real blessing.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

More sunrise in Ferney

I think this is actually the sunrise that made me forget to lock the door!

Sunrise ... in Ferney

On Thursday morning I left the house and was greeted by a wonderful sunrise - after the previous day's rain and cold. It so inspired me that I forgot to lock the front door - and only noticed when I got back in the evening. Fortunately we had not been "visited".

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Coffee in the garden of Eden

Today there was sad news of a death in the family of a friend; stories of destruction and suffering in the Philipines following the typhoon; prayers for Srilanka and Pakistan ... sometimes the world is too big, pain too great to comprehend or even begin to uphold in something like prayer. Or so it would seem ...
And then there was also a beautiful invitation following a friend's morning meditation prayer ritual with her daughter. Drink coffee with me, find time for some "Eden" time together. And so three of us have promised that tomorrow we will try to find time for coffee, or tea or a glass of water and a tiny little bit of paradise time in Eden.
Thinking of the beauty of the invitation I realise too that even if we never get to actually drink our coffee together tomorrow or the next day, just the invitation to a moment of collaboration in the Eden of coffee is in itself a foretaste of communion and fellowship.
So it is across the world where grief and pain strike, folk meet support one another and projects of new futures are born. We are natal not mortal.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Robben Island, the Lausanne Movement and telling stories

Several of my colleagues are attending the Lausanne Conference on World Evangelism in Cape Town at the moment. One is John Baxter Brown who's blogging about it in his occasional spare moments over on his blog Evangelism is in you Comfort Zone. JBB (as he is affectionately known) was fortunate enough to be able to visit Robben Island as part of his travels.

John writes about how the WCC helped to sponsor learning and teaching for some of the prisoners on Robben Island once restrictions were lifted in 1967. Although this knowledge makes him proud he also reflects while attending the evangelism conference:

But it was also the time that the perception changed of the WCC’s understanding of mission and evangelism, particularly within some evangelical circles. In ’68, at the WCC Assembly in Uppsala, controversial things were said which led some evangelical missiologists to question the WCC’s understanding of evangelism. Mutual mistrust set in, the echoes of which can still be heard today by those with ears to hear. In recent years, however, relationships have started to grow again and there is the potential, in my view at least, for there to be a renewed engagement between the ecumenical and evangelical wings of the Christian community. This engagement must be established primarily by working together in mission for the sake of a loving God and to serve a desperately needy world.
His post has triggered an interesting comment by Ian Chisnall which includes this:
However evangelicalism based on my understanding is intended to enrich and strengthen the whole church, even the parts which do not do things like evangelicals. So to the parts of the church which are not evangelical in definition. It is fantastic that the WCC today has many evangelicals at its heart (although some evangelicals today would not be aware of this).
Meanwhile the WCC's general secretary Olav Fykse Tveit has also been in Cape Town - in itself quite historic, the first time a WCC GS has been invited. In bringing greetings, Tveit made his evengelical and ecumenical background clear, and spoke clearly about the need for reconciliation as part of our unity and mission:
Ever since I read the Lausanne covenant for the first time when I was 15 years old, I was struck by the clarity of its vision: We are called to share the gospel of reconciliation with all. I have seen how this is exactly what happens in all our member churches every Sunday.
No regular reader of this blog needs to be told that I'm not an evangelical. Yet I do believe essentially in the power of the story of Jesus to change people's lives and to continually change and challenge my life. And of course the word "évangélique" has several tones of meaning in French - it can simply mean gospel-like but it can also mean evangelical. I've been thinking about this very much today after speaking with a fellow interpreter currently working in Guatemala. As I was interviewing her Karla Koll kept on saying that her theological work with pastors and lay people in the church was how to respond to being followers of Jesus in the continuing atmosphere of violence in that country.

One of the liberations and transformations the whole church needs to experience is surely to learn to follow Jesus more surely and not to suspect and accuse our fellow Christian brothers and sisters of doing it so much more imperfectly than we are. There is a not very Christian knee-jerk reaction against the "other" on the so-called liberal and the so-called evangelical "wings". We all need to really rediscover that ministry of reconciliation for ourselves, part of which will be to confess that we have not always loved our Christian neighbours as ourselves. The way forwards calls for some humility and some real translation and interpretation skills.

"That they may all be one."

With Christ we continue to pray ...

You can read Karla's letters from Guatemala here. And you can follow the Cape Town conference on their great twitter feed here.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Ripples in the water ...

When I first saw this it reminded me of my very first physics lesson where we had to try and make ripples in the water and measure the impact of what we were doing. I think it was all about waves or something - I only did a year of phsyics.

In the aftermath of blog action day on water I've been thinking about that. About the ripples we make, the tiny insignificant but important ripples of advocacy and information. If the theme of water had not so inspired me there is so much I would still be ignorant about today: the links between water and justice, water and health, water and sexual security, water and sanitation, water and education, water and simply having access to the future ... and so much more. If you don't have to walk for 2 hours a day to carry watter you will have so much more time and energy for other things; if you don't have to pay a disproportionate amount of your meagre income for water this can be inviested in the education of your children. And so it goes on. Abundance for the rich few, overpriced paucity for the many.
Will the ripples of our advocacy make any difference? I hope so.

Bits and pieces ...

This is a photo of part of a small part of the wonderful stained glass windows that surround two walls of the chapel of the ecumenical centre in Geneva. This weekend I have have tried to put myself on a rapid Wordpress learning curve to create a blog for the Ecumenical Centre worship committee. Images of the stained glass windows will be part of that.

One of the things that sustains and inspires me about these beautiful windows which I see nearly every working day is that in every combination of four small windows they create beautiful images of the cross. I keep intending to make systematic photos of the different images that occur as a result of that but have not yet got around to it. the play of colours and light each day is simply wonderful, calming and inspiring.

The image here is the outer edge of the rising and setting sun which is clearly depicted in the windows on the western wall. It's not the whole image just part of it, you have to guess at the rest. What I like about the way the windows are conceieved is that each little square is lovely, coloured and light-filled, in and of itself, yet each is a piece of the much larger picture. Somehow this idea helps me achieve perspective - on life and much else besides.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Water, water everywhere - today is blog action day on WATER!

All posts today will be about water in some way or another as part of blog action day.
The photo here of the mediterranean, from our recent holiday, reminds me powerfully of water as a glorious source of recreation and transformation. You can't be next to the sea without feeling the pull and energy of water.

But much as it would be fun to focus on a celebration of the beauty of water for blog action day, this day is about water and justice.

"Right now, almost a billion people on the planet don’t have access to clean, safe drinking water. That’s one in eight of us who are subject to preventable disease and even death because of something that many of us take for granted. Water is a global issue, and it affects all of us."

Over the past few years during Lent I have highlighted the work of the Ecumenical Water Network. It's a project at the place where I work which I always feel energised about and committed to. I can just see how important it is for churches and Christians to be part of a global campaign for water justice. Water is life! And of course water is also used by Christians in baptism and footwashing as well as being a major biblical theme.

But water is a deeply practical issue too, it's not just about well-building and sanitation, it's also about getting communities to act together to protect and restore their existing water supplies. You can see a great video about this here and also read an interview with the wonderful Moses Kulaba, who works in Tanzania with Norwegian Church Aid, linking accountable governance to issues of access to water.

Just access to water has the capacity to positively transform lives and communities. Lack of water justice has a desperately negative impact.

I'll write another post later today about how each of us can try to act for more water justice, locally and globally. Meanwhile as Moses said when he was talking to us in Geneva, getting people to find their voice is also part of the work of getting water to local communities.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Bravery, generosity and feminist theology

Yesterday evening I came home and decided to try for something a bit more serious than the previous day's reading on theology and detective fiction (edifying though that had been).
Another of the books that arrived this week from the SCM sale is Controversies in Feminist Theology by Lisa Isherwood and the late Marcella Althaus-Reid.
As I read I was moved to find two writers putting so succinctly things I have not actively tried to express myself. I "recognised" something of myself in what they write. It was like an ache I hadn't realised I had suddenly no longer being there, yet the ache was in some way replaced by a deep longing and also some sadness. The resonance with their thoughts did me good - the life of the mind can be healing even when it rouses painful emotions.
Then this afternoon a colleague came to see me, a person so wonderfully centred and clear about her role and convictions. We talked about a publication project and I mentioned my reading from the previous evening. She had known Althaus-Reid, studied with and been inspired by her. We spoke about difficulties and motivations, about bravery and tears being the source of strenght. We spoke also of future projects, things we wanted to write, people we wanted to get to write and the idea of having a feminist theology lunch. When she left she said "As Marcella said 'our work continues'". It was a strange sort of blessing but I recognise it for the benediction it was - our work continues. Ah the generosity of a conversation.

So here are a few bits and pieces from the introduction to controversies in feminist theology which resonated particularly with me - not even for reasons I can clearly state, they simply "echoed" with me as the French would have it.

"What feminist theologies offer, when we get it right, are a political challenge to a world that believes, or large parts seem to, that democracy once decided on can be exported with bombs and repression for the good of all. Freedom through death is a concept feminist theologies gave up on long ago! For feminist theologies, democracy means that controversy will remain at the heart of what we do and that it will fuel us to greater engagement with a world in need of our passion. Our ability to live with disunity is our greatest strength and our greatest question remains how to have the disputes, not whether to have them.
Feminists have always been brave women; they have and do put their lives on the line for the debate to be opened or to continue. Most of us are never asked to actually lay down our lives but we do have to show bravery in the way in which we continue to question and not hide behind either moral certainty or the morality that calls some not to offend the many. We need to be brave in continually questioning our own thoughts and keeping those too open to the unfolding future; a future that 'takes place every time a possibility is imagined, a collective self reflection takes place, a dispute over values, priorities and language emerges' ...Feminist theologies arise from the the lives of allwomen and are aimed at expanding those lives through justice-seeking and right-relation, this is an embodied activity which loses all credibility when confined to the page."

I cried, perhaps with recognition or something else, as I read that last night and tears fell this evening again as I typed these words.

Couldn't resist taking this photo

A wine called "the gospels" - what more could you want!
However I did not chcek whether this only held three bottles of synoptic wine or the full four gospel ...

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

My favourite holiday desert

Quite often if the menu comes with desert I will share or offer mine to Dr B. He was however only allowed the merest taste of this one - a dark and white chocolate mousse eaten at l'Arboussier.

As one of my parrishioners used to say "ah a few seconds in the mouth, years on your hips."

More to ponder upon in this global week of action on food.

A holiday picture in preparation for blog action day

So here's another photo from our holiday. This one reminds me of how on holiday I had time to take in life's curios, fun and decrepit things differently and appreciate them. Hey I even had time to photo things!

Because it's a dried up and out of use water pump it also reminded me of the work of the Ecumenical Water Network and of Blog Action Day this Friday which will be all about water.

Get blogging about water folk!

Crème brûlée - hmm yes please

Yes of course it was delicious - these two pictures just about sum up one part of the holiday for me.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Well of course you all knew we needed more books

So today France is mainly on strike but strangely the post office in Ferney was open - though we didn't actually receive any post. anyway this strange turn of events meant that Dr B was able to go and pick up a box of books that has been waiting for us since an hour after we left on holiday. There are many goodies in the box which came from the SCM sale but for now I'm going to curl up on the sofa and see whether this one is any good: Murder, Manners and Mystery: Presentations of Faith in Contemporary Detective Fiction: Reflections on Faith in Contemporary Detective Fiction.

It sounds quite fun though the frame of detective fiction it refers to does seem to be rather narrow compared to my highly eclectic selection. I shall have to see whether there is even any mention of the wonderful Fred Vargas, even if only in translation. Meanwhile I should perhaps return to my idea of trying to get people to write a crime fiction book through updates on my Facebook status, it was working quite well for about half a day ... Not sure whether a crime novel I would write would have religious overtones, though I suppose it couldn't not. I think my protagonist would be called Gloria (surname of course Excelsis), she would of course be a cleric but I haven't quite decided which country she will live in and which of her elders will be the first corpse. You better keep watching this space!
Just reading this on page three:
"If short of plot, pop in a caricatured pastor, nun, ex-nun, or woman priest as sleuth"

oh well, he's seen through me already ...

A holiday picture a day - at least for the first week

To remind me of the lovely time we had and the privilege of time out and away from the rat race.
Fittingly this photo was taken at (one of) our favourite restaurants of the holiday - Lo Cagarol in Aigne with it's three course lunchtime menu at 13.50. Lo Cagarol is Occitan for the snail - hence the ammonites. (Well I think that's what they're called!)

Monday, 11 October 2010

A day of blessings and presents

Today was my first day back at work after three weeks away. It was great to meet up with colleagues again and to start the week back in the chapel. As always though after a long holiday there is the slight feeling of re-entry, so I was extraordinarily blessed to return to my office after lunch and discover a card, a huge purple flowering orchid and a great new handbag. To then discover that these presents were from female colleagues at the World YWCA was like an added blessing of sisterly solidarity.

In just over a month the World YWCA and YMCA will holday their annual week of prayer

This year’s YWCA/YMCA Week of Prayer will be held from the November 14 to 20, 2010 . The theme is ‘Women Creating a Safe World,’ which is also the theme of the World YWCA Council and International Women’s Summit to be held in Zurich, Switzerland, in July 2011. The International Women’s Summit will explore the intersection between violence, sexual and reproductive health and rights and the spread of HIV. The theme celebrates women as leaders and co-creators of life everyday. In the company of many faith traditions, Christianity explores and affirms the role of women in creation, nurturing life and reaching out to the other.
I was asked to write six daily meditations for the week which you can find by scrolling down and clicking on the week of prayer booklet link here. And here are the themes for the six days:
Day one: Blessed are those who risk, for they shall be offered safety
Day two: Blessed are those who refuse to violate women, for they
have chosen life
Day three: Blessed are those who recognise and value the unique
talents of others, for they shall succeed
Day four: Blessed are those who raise their voices for health justice,
they shall be heard
Day Five: Blessed are those who build community, for they will be
blessed with belonging 13
Day Six: Blessed are those who dare to change, for they shall be
blessed with the future
Here is the meditation from day two, you'll have to go to the booklet for the questions and prayer. And thanks once more to my wonderful colleagues at the World YWCA for their generosity, support, creativity and leadership. This week they mark their week without violence.

Blessed are those who refuse to violate women, for they have chosen life
But the men would not listen to him. So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go. (Judges 19:25)
This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

The Bible text in Judges 19:22-30 tells a terrible story of gang rape. Do the men inside the house listen to the woman's screams as they last through the night or do they sleep? Do they pray for her or for themselves? Do they fear that she may not make it through the night and that the gang will come back to use them in the same way? If the gang comes knocking again, should they offer the virgin daughter of the host in order to protect their male honour?

Well, she was only a concubine. Not a real wife. And she's only a woman…

As terrible as the shrieks and violence during rape may be, terrifying too is the silence often imposed on women - by others or by themselvesafterwards.
Dare we speak and name what has happened?

There is a thumping sound next door, muffled shouts and cries. My neighbour is hitting his oldest daughter. He has been drinking. She is pregnant. How will his sons learn that this is not the way to treat the women in their lives?

And it's called "domestic violence" as if it were something tame. It is not.

The word "home" sounds so safe yet it can be a place of terror for many women.
To "choose life" is to campaign against everything that treats women as objects rather than as equal human beings. Choosing life is about longterm work with individuals, families and societies which examines the root causes of violence in sexism and the feelings of disempowerment.

Across generations, class, race and nations it is time to clearly say that violence in the private sphere is also unacceptable. We have the right to be safe in our homes. We choose life.

Worship for the churches week of action on food

At the Ecumenical Centre this morning colleagues from the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance had prepared worship for the beginning of the Churches week of action on food. Lusmarina Campos Garcia led the service and provided a powerful mime and dance on hunger and the longing for food which reflected both the liturgy and the call to hope that change for food justice is possible. John Baxter Brown and Fulata Mbana Moyo led a reflection on Isaiah 65 and the promise of a new heaven and a new earth.

Hungry God,
hungry for justice,
hungry for a world spending on hungry children as it spends on football games,
hungry that your promise of blessing the hungry be fulfilled,
draw us into your hunger
so we discover the life you offer when we give ourselves away,
and others do not have their lives taken away by the greedy and corrupt.
Give us the courage to risk a new hunger to do your will through Jesus Christ. Amen.

Find the full liturgy here and here.

We also signed the petition to the FAO to ask them to take action against land grabbing which is affecting the ability of many of the poorest people in Africa to grow their own food.

For someone who has just returned from a holiday of feasting on wonderful local food in the south of France this was a sobering service and a timely one.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Final 48 hours of holiday - Olonzac, Lo Cagarol, Bize Minervois, Millau and Le Poivrier at le Puy en Velay

Bon appétit and here's to the next holiday ...

Views of the Millau bridge from the passenger seat

As we got to the amazing Millau bridge I just started snapping with one of the mobile phones. The photos aren't graet but it gives you an idea of the energy of the contruction.

Posted by Picasa

the empties ...

no comment

Posted by Picasa

10-10-10 Pumpkins at the organic market in Ferney

Today is the 10.10.10 and are calling on all of us to make a difference by reducing our carbon footprint now, today.

The amazing Millau viaduct and passing thoughts about translation

So yesterday we came back over the Millau bridge, which is stunningly beautiful - some photos of the bridge will follow promise! We also treated ourselves to a stop at the visitors centre and the wonderful views back across the bridge and over the valleys and mountains. The exhibtion about the building of the bridge is in French and English and my linguistic skills were quite tested by some of the very technical vocabulary - a good learning experience. I was rather tickled however by the name given to this device built specially to build the bridge and called in French "le translateur". The English for it is "the conveyor", it conveys or carries, it bears the weight of and transports. This of course set off lots of thoughts about translation and how that conveys thoughts, ideas and communication from one language, one culture, one context to another.

Posted by Picasa

Friday, 8 October 2010

Occitan - the sound of the south, linguistic discoveries while wine tasting

In the window of the cave coopérative in Cessenon yesterday there was a poster for Occitan lessons - come and discover or rediscover how to speak, read, write, sing and laugh in the local language. You can find out more here. Occitan is really the sound of the south and we had quite an introduction to it listening to one of the wine growers we visited this week. Proudly Occitan and Mediterranean even in the grapes he planted and made his wine from and the methods used to ferment the wine.
Occitan in its written form traditionally tells of troubadours and ladies with unicorns, courtly love. It also often speaks of the Cathars, the religious sect wiped out following the Albigensian crusades. It's great to see Occitan going through a revival these days - for decades it was considered "dirty" to speak regional languages, now though you can even take Occitan as a baccalaureat subject.
Walking around Causses we came across a memorial to Jacques Vanière, not a writer in Occitan but a Latinist poet and Jesuit priest. The tiniest of villages yet this celebration of culture, language and poetry was at the centre.
Going around the villages in the countryside here, I am continually struck by the incredibly long and rich cultural and religious history. Human beings have been living, singing and versifying for millennia in this part of the world, so much of the languages from long ago is lost so it's good that there is renewed interest and commitment to Occitan. All the place names as you enter the towns and villages are in Occitan as well as in French.

St Chinian and Causses - different views on the same day

So here are some of yesterday's photos arranged here with the municipal cloisters in St Chinian in the centre. The next post will be of the same photos but with a different centrepiece, it's interesting to see how this changes the perspective. You walk through St Chinian's town hall to enter into the cloisters and with great French aplomb they've made a wonderful modern meeting room on one side of the cloisters. It works very well.
It makes me wonder whether what is now the town hall wasn't once a convent or religious house - it does rather have that sort of look about it. In all of the years that we have been coming here I've nover really wondered about that or looked further itno the history of St Chinian itself. Over many of the churches in other towns of the region you'll find the words "Liberté Egalité Fraternité" have been written, sometimes even with the addition of "propriété de l'état". This is a way of clearly marking out state power over the religious buildings.
Anyway, the rest of the photos are from the lovely little village of Causses which we visited to go and taste and buy some of the wines from La Maurine Rouge vineyard. We had great fun wandering in the streets and also discovering the wine we had first tasted at Cessenon on Sunday. More about that later.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

"Willows whiten, aspens quiver" - seeing details differently and having time ...

One of the great things about being on holiday is having the time to take things in and appreciate them differently. Opposite the back courtyard where we're staying there is a lovely mediterranean pine tree in the middle of a village garden. It gives me simple but deep pleasure on the late sunny evenings to simplysit and look at it, to watch the play of sun-setting light turning the bark red, to see how the wind makes the outline of the pine leaves move across the blue and darkening sky.
Looking at the bark of the plane trees in the market square or along the canal du midi; seeing the random pattern of the shells on the beach; wondering at the continually changing movement of waves on the sand; seeing the way the leaves of the olive trees move and how the shape of the varieties is different; seeing the asparagus gone to seed in people's gardens and taking pleasure in the way the garlic is plaited and the pumpkins are piled up on the market stalls; seeing the vines changing colour and liking the newly turned ground - all of these things made me think of my irascible English teacher Dan Plim. (Sadly the only online trace I can find of him is his history of Redditch golf club (!) and details on Friends Reunited of his death two years ago.)
I remember him twirling his reading glasses in his fingers and encouraging us to note the poet's eye for detail as we were reading Tennyson's The The Lady of Shallot. The leaves of different varieties of tree behave differently in the wind "Willows whiten, aspens quiver". I was lucky enough to have both a willow and an ash tree in the hedge of the garden at home and so could test what the poet and my English teacher said. And I still get irritated with Dr B for not knowing his oak trees from his willows - though after 20 years in France he can just about spot a plane tree.
There is beauty in majestic landscapes, broad brush strokes and the big picture, but there is also deep beauty in the small almost insignificant details. Artists of the word or brush may capture them for us, Caneletto for instance. But for me this holiday time blesses me with leisure to enjoy details and wide views, to be restored by both and to take that transformative pleasure back into my everyday life. Dramatic sunrises or sunsets, a beautiful autumn leaf or a scurrying lizard searching for fading warmth amongst the rocks, sun from behind the clouds, all help to add a different dimension making life more poetic, less mundane and taking me out of myself. so even when the holiday is over, it won't be over - the poetics of plaisir, loisir et désir will be able to continue. "Pleasure, leisure and desire" was the title of a brilliant Bible study on the Song of Solomon by Jacques Chauvin. Wonderful title and a great holiday ethic it seems to me, more on that theme later.

From the Canal du midi near Homps

So for now here are some more images from part of yesterday's trip to the Canal du Midi. Apparently one of my (about 3) readers complained that yesterday's collage of the olives was not as good as some of the others. Well all I can say is I'm sorry, I'm just doing this for fun folks, I am not a professional artist or photographer.
Anyway, yesterday was a very full day - just the amazing Château Landure and the lovely Abbaye de Fontcaude to add now, but first another day of holiday to enjoy, not many of those left.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Olives galore, tasting the oil

After lunch and some gentle walking along the Canal du Midi and some pottering around the Capitainerie in Homps we set off for Cabezac and Bize Minervois where the Oulibo wine cooperative can be found. I had quite a fun time tasting the oils and choosing some to take back with us. Of course these days you can buy everything over the internet but you can't taste that way. I've chosen some Picholine and Aglandou oils as well as the ordinary oil the cooperative makes. I slightly regret not having bought any Olivière oil but it was so pronounced and peppery that I decided to stay with the other two for now. The Picholine was delicious on our salad tonight.

Posted by Picasa

Do arbousiers grow where you live?

Today we made it to Homps, on the Canal du Midi and went back to a restaurant we've visited a few times before on previous visits several years ago. It's called L'Auberge de l'Arbousier and is lovely in a straightforward, gentle and unpretentious sort of way. You can see pictures of my meal which concluded with an utterly wonderful dark and white chocolate mousse. While we were eating we looked out onto the Canal du Midi and the overcast morning began to change into a wonderfully sunny afternoon, with the promise of walks along the tow path.

Until we came down to this part of France 10 years ago I had never heard of the arbousier tree or indeed of its fruit. In English it is sometimes called the strawberry tree and our local Chinese restaurant in Ferney sometimes serves deep red coloured tinned "arbouses" as a desert. I have to admit I rather prefer the lychees that are usually also on offer. So for now I prefer the auberge and its cuisine to the fruit of these intriguing little trees.

Posted by Picasa

Well today is overcast but yesterday was the perfect day

Pictures from around the port of Sète - with our evening meal thrown in for good measure!

However books to read still abound, as do vineyards to visit and villages to discover. We'll see what the day brings, first some breakfast and a look in my rucksack to see what books I bought at Le Flo des Mots yesterday.

Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

On the beach between Sete and Agde

So it has been the most glorious day, sunbathing, sea, sand and Sète. Here are just a few pictures from the beach.

Posted by Picasa

supper ...

Figs, melon, cheese, bread, ham and wonderful local viognier wine - the perfect supper at the end of the perfect day. A real blessing as the sun finished setting.

A flow of words and wine

I just loved this wonderful bookshop in Sète, which is also a wine shop an art gallery and a café. It's called Le Flo des Mots. What drew me in to the shop were the great letters hanging from the ceiling, then inside it was like lots of different shops for different kinds of books, and of course wine. There were handwritten notes about some of the books, work by local artists and a lovely café area at the far end of the shop for tasting the wine and trying out the food. It was lovely and of course I didn't manage to leave without buying a book, well two actually ...