Monday, 30 May 2011

Word of the day - métier à tisser - the loom of peace could also be the ministry of peace

It's difficult with a rather flaky mobile internet connection on my way through Eastern Germany to do the etymological research I need for some passing thoughts about the word "métier à tisser" which is French for a loom. In German it's a Webstuhl - literally a weaving chair. Given how at the Peace Convocation we have thought a great deal about weaving, weaving stories, weaving history, weaving the future ... it is not surprising that I should begin to think about the French word for loom. The French word métier is used today to mean profession. But looking at these etymological defintions I was surprised to see that the word has its origins in the sense of service or ministry. I suppose for the loom this means that that the métier ministers to the tissage, it "serves" the weaving, making it possible for cloth and textile to be woven.
So this set me thinking about how we have been talking about the Convocation, perhaps one of its roles was to be of service to the weaving together of just peace from many diverse contexts. It was a loom, being that loom was part of the WCC's ministry of peace with justice.

Swiss trains - one step up from poems on the underground

One of the great thing about travelling on Swiss trains is that an ignoramous like me gets to learn a little more about Swiss culture each time. Yesterday I was in the Denis de Rougemont train from Geneva to Basel. You can find the full list of the political, philosophical and literary folk who are celebrated on Swiss trains here, spot how few women are on the list.
The carriages have different quotations from the person the train is named for and these serve to provoke thoughts, perhaps calm folk down or irritate them as they let the train take the strain.
Anyway I hope that on the way back I'll be on the Albert Einstein. I've promised myself that I shall walk through the carriages and note down the different quotations.
Next I think I want Geneva's buses to start carrying quotes or poems. These are simple things but they add to the travelling experience, for someone who knows almost nothing about Switzerland they also help widen my rather narrow cultural horizons.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Resurrection chaos with the peaceful Ichthys

I realise that I have said very little about the worship at the IEPC and wanted to try and correct that at least a bit. It was deeply satisfying, deceptively simple and uplifting in a sort of slow burn way. I really like worship like this, meaningful yet very joyful. Messages both implicit and explicit.
I shared an appartment at the halls of residence with the female members of the worship committee and I know how hard they worked, putting together at least three services every day, often re-writing at the last minute and dealing with lots of last minute hiccoughs. We had very early morning starts for the musical and practical rehearsals. They were putting in 12-14 hour days in very difficult circumstances.
At the final sending service they had really wanted us to gather at the beach but for all kinds of practical reasons this wasn't possible, too far, too late in the day. Yet in many ways we were at the beach.
Each of us received a large paper fish. As part of the reflection we were invited to write on the fish. This followed on from a wonderful multilingual reading of John 21, the miraculous fish catch and Christ's resurrection breakfast with his friends on the beach. The fish were then gathered into a wodnerful net which was hauled forward to the altar. In the choir we had to keep on singing and singing as people kept on wanting to write more and more, or make sure that their fish had an eye on it, of proper scales or a smiley face.
Then instead of sharing the peace in a traditional way we drew the shape of the fish, the ichthys, on the palm of our neighbours' hands. It tickled a bit and made us smile but it was a great idea and just really worked well.
I was moved by the idea of the fish being the love banquet, the true eucharist and reason to give thanks. So closing prayers did take us symbolically to the beach, to that liminal place of resurrection where the fishy fruit of the chaotic ocean meets the bread of the civilised land. It made me think about embracing the chaos being part of the resurrection message, only if we dare to do that will the miraculous catch of just peace be possible.

And of course we've also been singing all through the convocation, mostly things not know to me beforehand, including this ... not quite about the beach but still about bread and fish.

“On the green, green grass they gathered long ago.
To hear what the Master said.
What they had they shared some fishes and some loaves.
And they served until all were fed.
Until all are fed we cry out.
Until all on earth have bread.
Like the One who loves us each & every one...
We serve until all are fed."

Friday, 27 May 2011

Reading the Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse - the Duties of Womanhood by Mirta Yañez

I treated myself to The Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse from the University bookshop on my first day in Jamaica, now I finally have a moment to read some of it. Actually poetry is the perfect reading companion for a conference like the IEPC, it transports to other realities and requires short bursts of concentration but not too much sustained attention.
It has some wonderful poems in translation and I'm looking forward to reading more on the plane this evening. For now though this has really touched me and made me smile, perhaps a little sadly. Several of our colleagues have now travelled to Cuba for the 70th anniversary of the Cuban Council of Churches, maybe one of the reasons I started reading the Cuban verse in the collection first. I've just noticed a poem called Liberation theology - better read that next! I give thanks for those who labour to write poetry, offereing us all fragments of deep understanding of our lives.

The Duties of Womanhood - Mirty Yañez

We learned the duties of love and silence,
of obdurate loneliness and anguish,
our duty to witness fear and death
and the arduous task od structuring dreams

We learnt the duties of twilight and desolation
the labour of poetry
of gregorian chants
the mysterious firmament of the stars
the inexorable rituals of waiting
the ceremonies of terror and valour
the secrets of the bow and its invisible arrow
of the night and the fires illuminating it.

We learned of joy
of smiles
light and shadows
magic and science
a tree, an apple, a paradise,
the serpent, a flight of birds,
Mythology and enigma.

We learnt men's ways
an seized others meant only for gods.

How do we tell our stories - is it possible to find new methodologies?

So, the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation is over. Today I shall travel home. In my luggage I am carrying the wonderful patchwork quilt called "Journey to Peace" which the WCC commissioned as part of the stitching peace exhibition. I shall be taking it first of all to Dresden for the German Protestant Kirchentag, then perhaps it will journey to other places.
For me travelling back with a patchwork quilt as one of the fruits I am taking away from Kingston also triggers some thoughts about methodologies.
From the outset, inspired by the arpillera and quilt exhibition, we have spoken about weaving at the IEPC, about what threads we have to weave into the fabric of just peace, about the texture of what we are taking away, about how we will sew what we have recieved into our home contexts. I suppose the question is what kind of "Just-Peace Companion" do we take home with us, just the printed one or do we take home with us also the not yet written version and feel that we too can be part of that ongoing story?
There was a good spirit at the IEPC, things went well despite the huge distances covered. I am still left with some questions about methodologies. Perhaps this has to do with some thinking about the age of creativity being the age that must follow on the age of post-modernity. PArt of me felt we should dare to do a conference like this in a truly different way, trusting process more than input, participation rather than frontal delivery. Yet I would not have wanted to not receive Paul Oestreicher's wonderful opening keynote address. I've been trying to think about how a Barcamp methodology might work for an international conference like this - at least for part of it.
As we take up threads and go forwards I wonder whether our institutions are able to take the thread of real creativity and reform forwards, do we dare to think about how to do things in a different way, so as to truly network our stories and experiences and also have a truly common experience and learn to speak with something like a common voice.
Just some passing thoughts. We still need written ecumenism, and our thinking needs to be stretched and challenged more in that format. We need to move beyond well-behaved ecumenism to something that remains respectful but which is truly engaged and open to new ideas. The arts have from the outset been part of the WCC's history, maybe we need to discover that a bit more in these times, the arts can help us htink and act in new ways. More about new methodologies later - I must remember to get on my plane! In the end logistics are logistics!

Mango peace building at the IEPC and beyond

One of my abiding memories of the IEPC will be of eating mangoes every day fresh from the tree, the juice, the delicous sour-sweetness, the hairy stone in the middle to be sucked. There were mango trees wherever we walked on the campus of the University of the West Indies and it was difficult to resist picking up the fallen ripe fruit from the ground. There were lovely stories of people from the local organizing turning up with bags of particularly ripe mangoes from their our trees - "you really must eat these today, they're just right". So abundant, so sensual, so sticky and glorious, and so irresistable. I even overheard a conversation where someone from India was telling a companion who was stooping down to pick one up, "You know there is a theory that the tree in the garden of Eden was a mango tree". Tempting mangoes as the forbidden fruit, honestly I don't think Adam and Eve would even have needed a serpent to whisper in their ears, the perfume of the fruit would suffice. I have a personal pet theory - completely unscientific - that the mango may contain everything that is needed to sustain life.

As we walked and hurried and sweated from one event to the next, this image of abundance, nourishment and refreshment was all around us. In many of the workshops and meetings we were hearing stories of terrible suffering and pain. People spoke sometimes from a sense of helplessness, demands were made for someone to do something, the Church, the world, the UN ... The final message tried to weave some of all of this together.

Many of us from the Peace Convocation have already left Jamaica, I shall leave myself tomorrow. What do we take away with us? Extraordinary stories from often desperate situations, questions more than answers, ideas for ways forwards evoked rather than set in stone, but true expressions also of real pain and frustration, and of embodied tangible hope.

As each of us returns to our own contexts we try to take the fruits of the IEPC back with us. some of us may even pack a mango or two into our suitcases. Perhaps the perfume, generosity and juiciness of the mangoes all around us in Kingston will inspire our continued peace-making. A promise that peace can become as abundant as war-mongering and violence seems to be; a promise that peace can be shared by all; a promise that things don't quite taste the same at home as they did here but that we can share hope and experience.

I'm looking forward to sharing some abundant sweet and sensual mango peacebuilding. The fruits we have to share are less about knowledge and more about perfume. The time is ripe for peace with justice.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Tree planting as part of the IEPC

Each day at the IEPC the Convocation paused at midday for a very simple form of prayer which remembered how God planted a tree in Eden and how we are called to live like trees planted next to a source of water.

Each day trees have been being planted, in the grounds of the university of the West Indies. Forty-nine trees in all have been planted, all of them local species and the University is really pleased to have this lasting legacy of the IEPC which will go on growing here. A good sign of peace with the earth. I wasn't able to get to an actual tree planting but was sent this really great photo of one of the Bible study groups watering "their" tree with water from their "just water" water bottles. This photo comes courtesy of Tara Curlewis, general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Australia.
It's good to know that we're leaving something that will grow here.
Meanwhile some folk are also sending in photos of the trees they planted on World Sunday for Peace. Here's a great one from Sweden where the group planted an apple tree. The just peace we build has to be lovingly planted and firmly rooted.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Praying the Devil back to Hell and celebrating the extraordinary Christian and Muslim women of Liberia

Twice this week at the IEPC we have shown Pray the Devil back to Hell, an extraordinary film which movingly and brilliantly charts the feisty story of the women's peace movement in Liberia. It's a story I knew almost nothing about until I saw the film for the first time last week. It brings together so many elements that have been shared, discussed, sung about and prayed for during these days at the Convocation.
A desperate tragic situation: war, oppression and dictatorship raging for over a decade. And women in the churches coming together with a crazy idea to pray for peace ... and Muslim women joining them.
There's powerful footage of the women dressing in white to go on their first demonstration and warlords preparing weaponry. These were women who knew only too well what they wanted, only peace could secure a future for each family and the whole country. It is a powerful illustration of Paul Oestreicher's call for the abolition of war on the first day of the convocation. Without peace the hope of any kind of future is absent. "We want peace, no more war. Liberia is our home". They sing, they dance, they go on sex strike, to get the men to join with them.
The women showed such tenacity as well as great and creative organisation, this campaign begins in the grassroots - we want our husbands, sons and brothers back. It ends up at the international peace talks in Ghana and finally in involvement in the detailed implementation of the peace agreement and beginning to build a democratic culture and structure in the country afterwards. They didn't think just because they got an agreement everything will be ok. At one point they even take on the UN in the disarmament process.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said in her presidential inaugural address "it was the women who led us to peace."
Are you willing to step out in your home, to work for hope in the most desperate of circumstance? Am I willing to do that?
It's a very powerful film. Highly recommended

Monday, 23 May 2011

Where next for peace? How do we take the #IEPC forwards

The Peace Convocation here in Jamaica will draw to a close tomorrow and already people are beginning to think about what they will take back with them and how this experience can help motivate and drive forwards the peace work in our churches and well beyond our church landscapes.

Dr B has written a commentary piece for which he begins by saying:

The International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in Jamaica symbolizes the emergence of a remarkable consensus among Christian churches on issues of war, peace and justice. Yet the task facing the ecumenical movement in the 21st century is now to work for a consensus on justice and peace that transcends cultural and religious boundaries.

The WCC's general secretary Olav Fykse Tveit is also setting out the way forwards more in terms of the Christian values of justice and peace being the core and truly fundamental values of Christian faith:

“I hope that from here we will have an understanding that we have some Christian values together that can be described in terms of justice and peace, and that these values unite us.”
Many churches are interested in clarifying the concept of how we as churches are peacemakers. I hope that we all can take back a renewed understanding of how the call to work for peace and justice is a Christian calling. This is actually what Christ has called us to do – to be peacemakers.”
The IEPC has been about gathering new ideas and a new sense of hope that is strong enough to help participants realize it is possible to make justice and peace a reality, not just a dream and a wish.

One of the things that I observe here is that the peace-making churches and groups undertake is on the one hand very grassroots based and orientated towards deep reconciliation between former enemies. As soon as we start working for peace we begin to see the inter-relatedness of all things, even local work for peace has to be global in its consciousness. Perhaps it is this renewed global consciousness and local rootedness which is in some ways renewing peace movements across the world.
On the other hand, though, at an international gathering there are also expectations and questions to the institutions, to the churches, the United Nations and the World Council of Churches itself. In the age of post modernity we often hear that this is not the time of institutions. Yet I sense a new breeze blowing, coming in part from the grassroots, from the way international institutions are using local information networks, twitter and crowd-sourcing information. This by-passes the national level sometimes and shows how the local and the global can mutually inspire and inform one another. The challenge then for any institution is how to be at the same time strong and organised but also open to the breath and energy coming from the grassroots. Bureaucracy meeting activism is always a bit of a challenge. However, here at the IEPC it does seem to be working rather well.

Stephen puts this rather differently and sets out the challenge for the WCC particularly in taking peace and justice issues forwards:
It is no longer enough to forge and to promote a consensus on justice and peace within Christian churches. Nor can issues of interfaith dialogue and cooperation be matters only for a few specialists, important as such expertise is. Neither is it question of simply seeking areas of common ground on which members of various faiths can already agree. Taking seriously the search for “just peace” in the 21st century means promoting authentic dialogue, one that may be marked as much by debate and disagreement as was the emergence of the ecumenical convergence seen now in Jamaica. In this process, alongside others, the World Council of Churches has a major role to play.

Meanwhile, at the back of the plenary tent in Jamaica there is a piece of net which people are encouraged to weave threads and fabrics through - weaving peace with justice. It will be taken back to Britain as a tapestry of our commitment and involvement. I've heard it said that the age of post-modernity will be followed and has to be followed by the age of creativity. As Margot Kässmann says in her opening essay in Ecumenical Review, peacemaking needs creativity. So perhaps each of us brought both our set ideas and stories to Jamaica, now the creative challenge is to take away some of our own story woven together with the story of many others. In the age of Twitter and Facebook perhaps this is easier than ever before as our walls are ways of weaving other people's stories into our own and ours into theirs.
So let's get weaving our take home souvenirs.

IEPC photo galleries

IEPC videos

Whatever langwij you speak, may your words be words of peace

Every day I go past "Di Jamiekan Langwij Yuunit" several times on my way between the various places I need to get too. It always makes me smile and I'm a bit sad that the WCC's langwij yuunit hasn't managed to link up with them. Last night I stayed behind in the tent to offer moral, though I admit not much practical, support to the great colleagues and stewards who had to work very hard to take down all of the equipment following the great musical we had last night. Listening to the local Jamaican stewards I realised that the local language is very beautiful but that often I'm only pretending to understand. I'm pleased to say that this is mutual, my rather horrid RP (received pronunciation) English seems to be just as difficult for many Jamaicans. Anyway by the time I leave on Friday I really hope to have got my Jamaican vowels practised to perfection. Peace mon, yeah mon!

Behind the scenes ... how the #IEPC keeps on track

Most participants I chat with are really enjoying themselves the the Peace Convocation - some are suffering a bit with the heat, humidity and the distances we have to walk; a few might like a bit more variety in the food we get to eat (personally I've got rather addicted to rice n peas), generally there seems to be a great spirit and a wonderful atmosphere, particularly in the evenings at the open air bar at the Rex Nettlesford halls of residence. There are good conversations going on there every night and I admit to having developed quite a taste for the coconut rum on the rocks.
However, the pictures here don't show scenes of conviviality but of the back rooms where staff are busy working to keep data input, computer terminals, communications, documentation, finance, accommodation, Bible studies, workshops, seminars, plenaries and much else besides on track as much as possible. Lots of the work is physical, requires alot of concentration and sometimes also nerves of steel - cabling, data entry, collating documents, chasing down speakers, rebuilding the stage between worship and plenary sessions, building interpretation booths, spending ages with administrations on the phone tracking down shipments, dealing with payments converted between several different currencies, filming, writing, updating the web, finding people to sing or pray in different languages and much more besides ...
Creating an event for 1,000 people requires dedicated and committed staff and coopted staff - and liaison with a brilliant local team here in Jamaica, including many volunteers and students. We are not perfect, but together we're a good team, some of us more exhausted than others. When the IEPC is over we will have a real feeling of achievement, proud to have been part of this significant event in the WCC's history. It would not have been possible without us.

Blessed are those who fill in data and greet us at registration with a smile and get us a room!
Blessed are the finance folk who deal with our reimbursements
Blessed are the html programmers, the writers and filmakers getting the story out there
Blessed are the cleaners, the cooks, the travel agents
Blessed are the planners, the speakers and the inspirers
Blessed are the ones who find us ladders, boards, ramps, sound equipment and bamboo poles
Blessed are those who stock the frig with beer
Blessed are those who translate, convert currency, change air tickets, find doctors
Blessed are the musicians who in the midst of it all allow us to think we could still dance
Blessed is Nan, who coordinates us, with aplomb
Blessed is the IEPC staff, co-opted staff and volunteer team.

Thanks to all of you guys, you've done such a good job, we think we might try and do it again ... maybe in about 10 years time.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Silence or applause - really in so many ways it is about how we put our hands together

Our very good friend Paul Oestreicher has travelled from New Zealand together with his wife and fellow peace activist Barbara Einhorn to be here at Kingston. In the 1980s, back in the days when Dr B was the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmamment's international officer the three of them worked closely together, particularly on the German-German working group of END, European Nuclear Disarmament. The peace movement was important and faced political difficulties in both parts of the then still divided Germany. As I look back now I can see that the pain of that division on German soil gave birth to a very engaged peace movement, of course the experience of the war also drove the 1980s peace movement and pacifism in Germany forwards. Paul's personal story is similar to that of my father's - both fled Hitler's Germany in the late 1930s.
In the heat of the Jamaican sun Paul cuts a very elegant figure around the campus here in Jamaica in his light long white clothes. At the opening plenary he gave an inspiring, heartfelt and challenging speech "A New World is Possible - a cry for the end of war".
Here are some extracts:

Wherever you come from, whatever your church tradition, you may be Orthodox or Catholic, Protestant or Charismatic, Evangelical or Liberal, Conservative or Radical, all of us have come here because we wish to be friends of Jesus, rabbi, prophet and more than a prophet. To each one of us he says: You are my friends, if you do what I command you ... This I command you, to love one another as I have loved you. Is anyone, anywhere, excluded from that love? Here is the answer that Jesus gave to his friends: It is said: ‘you shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy’; but I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

Jesus was not an idealistic dreamer. He was and remains the ultimate realist. The survival of our planet demands nothing less than the abolition of war. Albert Einstein, the great physicist and humanist, recognised that early in the last century. He repeated it often with a clarity and credibility that few Christian pacifists have matched.

What I have put before you in stark simplicity, is nevertheless deeply complex. Having spent my life studying politics, I do not believe that there is any room for pacifist self-righteousness. I have not come to Kingston to demonise those who choose the military option. They are part of us, they are the many and we are the few. We must find ways of co-opting them into the peaceful struggle. The critics of principled non-violence are neither knaves nor fools. We must answer them wisely and patiently. They will rightly ask pacifists like me many serious questions: how, for example, is law and order to be maintained globally without heavily armed nations? On this point there is already good news. In the light of the last century’s history of unparalleled violence, international law is paving the way for genuine alternatives.
The other interesting dynamic to Paul's speech was that when the WCC's general secretary introduced him we were requested to follow the Quaker custom of not applauding either at the beginning, during or at the end of the speech. In the context of our meeting here in Kingston this didn't quite work, applause at large events like this is often the only way that "ordinary" people can participate. I can see why Paul requested that - Quaker meetings take place in silence unless one is moved by the Spirit to speak - Paul is both a Quaker and an Anglican priest. Part of me wishes that we could have simply greeted his words with silence. That silence might somehow have "decanted" the truth and the message in the words. It is easy for speakers to play the crowd for applause and sometimes it can change the tenor of a speech, feeding of the rapture of the crowd. Silence doesn't always mean disapproval, it can also lead to a deeper consideration of what has been said.
In the end we were not able to resist responding to Paul's speech with applause, it was a very measured performance but a bravura one nevertheless.
Now we need to decide how we will put our hands together to respond in practical ways to work for the abolition of war. Our hands must not then remain silent.

Photo copyright (c) EKD/epd

World Sunday for Peace - what is the right hand of God doing in your land?

Today is World Sunday for Peace. Across the world's churches people have been invited to pray for peace, to plant a tree, to use the prayer for peace written by the host churches of the Peace Convocation. Here in Kingston, participants were invited to a wonderful service of praise and celebration in the main tent led by the Jamaican churches and the churches of the Caribbean. We had wonderful choirs, great readings, heartfelt and meaningful prayers, a fabulous steel band with brilliant drumming, dancing and music. We ended with wonderfully rousing singing of the hymn known as the Caribbean anthem "The Right hand of God" - the final verse goes:
The right hand of God is planting in our land
Planting seeds of freedom, hope and love
In these many peopled lands, let his children all join hands
And be one with the right hand of God.

Afterwards the blessing affirmation read:
"And instead of the cacophony of war we will compose a symphony of peace; instead of a world of chaos and confusion, we will create a new order of harmony and solidarity."

And that harmony of blended trained voices, enthusiastic steel drummers and cries of "Amen" accompanied us as we set out into a more gently paced day. A day of rest and enjoyment, time to get to know our host churches, discover some local specialities - (the hot chocolate rum was delicious, thank you!) and even for some to go to the beach. A reminder that #justpeace is not only about striving, writing reports or always "doing" more and more, it is also about making time for one another, letting things settle down and allowing things to emerge. Justpeace may often have to be struggled for but it cannot be achieved by force.

So what might the right hand of God be pointing to for justpeace in your country, in your context, in your life? What seeds of peace and justice are being planted, do we open our eyes to see what is already growing?
The prayer for peace written by the Caribbean churches and shared today with the world's churches begins:

God of peace and possibility, Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier: We approach you to ask once again for your mercy, forgiveness and a fresh start. We ask you to help us give peace a chance, in this world.
Even as World Sunday for Peace closes may our prayers for justpeace continue.
Here are the links to the different language versions.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Tears - we shall not hang our harps on the willows

The opening worship for the IEPC included a prayer of lament, during the words of the prayer we hummed the tune to from the rivers of Babylon and then in the silence in between one of the young people from Jamaica bent down to a bowl of water and rose, wringing out tears of injustice and suffering. It was moving and powerful. As we moved from the lament further into the liturgy, our humming became singing - "By the rivers of babylon, where we sat down, and we wept when we remembered ..."
As we reflect on and work for just peace there is enormous pain but there is also hope. We will not hang our harps on the willows, we will continue to hum and sing the song, both of pain and of hope.

More images from Stitching Peace

The Stiching Peace exhibition is going well in the Assembly Hall of the University of the West Indies. Roberta Bacic had to travel back to Ireland today but the exhibiton continues with Mairead and Marlene from Derry. Roberta was really enthusiastic about the experience of this international gathering in Jamaica and has alraedy got several invitations for further exhibtions. Today we had a visit from a group of local quilters here in Kingston, they left some great comments in the visitors book which has praise in many languages for the exhibtion.
The catalogues are also available in four languages and look really great.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

At the traffic lights ...

At the traffic lights a desperately thin young man is kneeling in a terribly dangerous place in the middle of the road between notional lanes between the cars. He stands up and looks through the open window of my taxi "sometin' to eat man" he says.
I look at him with confused guilty compassion and the taxi driver curses, saddened to see such a young person, 16 at most, headed in a very wrong direction.
I remember the dilated pupils, the threadbare tshirt and the total resignation with which he turned away from me when he realised no cash would be forthcoming.
Only as we pulled away did I realise that kneeling in the middle of the road he was inhaling lighter fluid in some strange addictive ritual linked to danger and perhaps a cry for help. Perhaps exercising his addiction in a public way like this is the only way he can get enough money to scrape by.
As the traffic lights changed we pulled away and I thought about how the Levite and the Priest were on foot, only the Samaritan had transport. In my transport I just drove on by, it was all too easy.
Then I went off to my convocation on peace, peace in the community, peace in the marketplace …
And I know that praying for that distressed young man at the traffic lights is not enough.
I shall however try at least to do that. The Good Samaratian did a great deal more …

Peace on Earth

Get your hands dirty for a strong arms trade reduction treaty

In the exhibition space at the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation here in Kingston, the Church of Norway are getting people to leave hand prints and sign their name as a way of making a colourful and creative petition in support of an arms trade treaty that will protect and save lives into the future. Conventional weapons kill more than 2000 people every day, these small arms are sometimes referred to as the "weapon of mass destruction of the poor."
The Church of Norway is using the IEPC as a platform to start a global mobilization of the churches in advance of the June 2012 Arms Trade Treaty negotiations. The petition is a way to inspire church leaders and people in congregations to get involved in bearing witness to how harmful armed conflict remains.
So it's not surprising that in the exhibition hall of the Convocation they got the Norwegian general secretary of the WCC to be the first to leave his hand prints and signature on the petition.
The idea is that the hand print should form a heart where the thumbs and fingers meet. Our hands should drop the gun and instead greet one another in peace.
Time for all of us to get our hands dirty and get on with this part of the campaign against the arms trade.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Morning meditation

We have moved to accomodation on the campus of the University of the West Indies. We're housed in groups of 8 in small almost monastic rooms with shared bathroom facilities and a large common area. The central garden courtyard is lovely.
This morning as we awake people try to be as quiet as possible, but in the (rather too) early morning we try to be careful about making noise as we rise and speak as little as possible. We can still hear someone in a room somewhere snoring gently. We wander around washing, brushing our teeth, drinking water - not everyone is a morning person ... it's a quiet and quite meditative time, beautiful light comes through the louvered window shutters and we can see the green palm leaves outside. We acknowledge one another but just get on with waking and preparing for the day.
Then the silence is broken by a song, sung gently but joyfully from one of the rooms. It was like a sign that we were now allowed to speak and enter more fully into the day.
The lines of song made me smile and another song rose inside me but remained this morning sung only by my heart:
"Er weckt mich alle Morgen, Er weckt mir selbst dar Ohr."
Peace to the whole of creation on this new day.
(I should add that there's is another story to be told about this which would be called the spirituality of the lost suitcase - time for that tomorrow)

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

collage from the first day of the IEPC - registration, exhibition and ... carbon off setting

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Beginning to hang the Stitching Peace exhibition

Come and visit at the Assembly hall of the University of the West Indies open daily during the IEPC

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Monday, 16 May 2011

The risen Christ calls us to peace not to vengeance - Olav Fykse Tveit preaches at Webster Memorial United Church

Sometimes it's really worth making the effort to get out of bed early on a Sunday morning and yesterday was a good case in point. It was good to begin the 10 days of the IEPC worshiping with local people at their normal Sunday service. The tradition of dressing up to go to church is alive and well in Jamaica. Twenty years in France, where this really isn't the case, had made me almost forget this part of my own tradition of church going.

I was moved by the sermon preached by the WCC's general secretary, Olav Fykse Tveit. He really engaged with the congregation, blending humour about unity in diversity - recognizing the real differences between the Caribbean where tropical fruit juice is drunk and Norway where salt cod tends to the local speciality - with a powerful and heartfelt message about the true Christian values of righteousness, peace and joy.
He began by saying quite meditatively
"We are the church
We are the Kingdom
We are the World Council of Churches ..."
It is a sign of the united church to value righteousness, peace and joy as true fruits of the Spirit

He took Romans 14.11-18 as his text, encouraging the congregation to focus on joy, as this 3rd Sunday after Easter is called Jubilate, Rejoice!
This rejoicing is the gospel of resurrection which comes across locked doors in the person of the risen Christ breathing the words "peace be with you". "This tells us alot about how God calls us to just peace. The theme of just peace is not just something to discuss but it is a sign of the Kingdom of God and that fruit of the Spirit called joy. The risen Christ is present to bring justice and peace to the world as a sign.
Christ's presence brings with it a new reality of joy and peace. Despite the betrayal, humiliation, torture, pain and death that he has endured it is not with revenge that Christ comes back but with a true justice, he returns from death bearing the fruits of the kingdom. This is what he brings to the world through his presence.

Tveit then went on to speak about situations of war and peace in the world, mentioning in particular a visit in January to a minority church in Libya which had at that time particularly been praying for the Coptic martyrs of Alexandria
He continued by saying that the church is called to give witness to what is not seen, like a seed hidden in darkness, God's presence is alive. Pointing out that the WCC was not quite as old as Webster Memorial Church, he also made reference to the speech made by the then bishop of Oslo in the run up to the WCC's founding in 1948 "The Enemy divides, God unites". Reflecting on this Tveit then returned to the Romans 14 passage saying "We are created to be united, to be togehter." The text takes us further even than this towards accepting that God has created nothing that is unclean. It is we who make one another unclean.
We are here to be a signs of righteousness, justice and peace. God justifies us so we can bear witness to a unity of diversity, of difference. All of us are called to accept one another.

Getting to be 70 means we are still young enough to change while building on what those who went before. Change is possible. Another world is possible. To illustrate this Tveit told a favourite story of his mother who spoke of peace coming at the end of the German occupation of Norway. How her story of the day the peace came helped him to see pictures he had never actually seen, like the blackout curtains which had separated people and kept the light out burning in teh streets. The burning curtains were a clear sign of peace, not just a rumour. the story of peace also speaks clearly of the joy of something. People around the world carry such stories of peace and part of the practice of peace is to give and share them as signs to one another.
In any home life can be complicated, we can forget that peace also needs righteousness and joy.
"I believe the Holy Spirit calls churches to do everything we can together to witness to the reality of Christ's presence. There is no way of separating Christ from these values of justice, peace and joy."

Going through my (I should add imperfect) notes to type this up I realise that what moved me about yesterday's sermon was the very gentle but convinced weaving together of favourite themes the WCC's general secretary has preached about over the past 18 months. Tveit is keen to assert that justice joy and peace are the core Christian values. In all our talk about unity we must not separate ourselves from that. There were subtle but very clear messages about inclusivity and I think I am beginning to better understand the statement he sometimes makes when he says he doesn't believe in enemies. Here the idea received a bit more context for me and I was very struck by the idea of Christ coming back from the grave with the fruits of the Spirit. Justice, peace and joy are resurrection values with great capacity to unite us.
During the service yesterday there were also beautiful moments when a woman sitting close to me was more or less finishing the preacher's entences before he did and saying amen with real joy.
Worth getting up early on Sunday for.

The dance of justpeace?

This wonderful sculpture is at the University of the West Indies not far from the staff offices. From a distance it looks almost like a mural, only close up to you begin to get the idea of the wonderful movement and energy in the sculpture.
This truly is a woman in praise and joy:
"Glory to God and Peace on Earth"

Sunday, 15 May 2011

An early morning start at Webster Memorial United Church

Webster Memorial United Church in Kingston Jamaica has two services on Sunday mornings and the first one begins at 7.15 - this is quite a shock to the system, and I speak as someone who regularly led Sunday worship at 9.15. Even more impressive at Webster is how many people of different ages were present in the church which seats 700 when full. It's a wonderful cross-shaped worship space and because this is Jamaica the walls are windows open to the outside with fans whirring in the ceilling, all of the work on the building was done by congregation members. It's an impressive and welcoming space.

Webster Memorial is celebrating 70 years of its foundation, and the service was a time of joy and celebration both of history and of the present. It was also a privileged time for those of us representing the world church to be part of a local event full of joy and history. It was a lively and quite long service but there was a strong sense of graciousness and welcome, a blend of the formal and informal that worked well.

One wonderful moment was a sort of extended extemporary greeting of one another about half way through the service. One of the choir members game down to greet us and she like many people in the congregation was wearing a name badge. I was so pleased, she was Marjorie Lewis the first female principal of the United Theological College of the West Indies and someone who while in the UK really encouraged the Daughters of Dissent project and in particular highlighted the work of the redoubtable and brilliant Madge Saunders. It was wodnerful serendipity to meet Marjorie at church because I'd been given a book for her in Geneva and she was busy handing out invitations to the book launch during the greeting session. Now at least there will be one copy of the book at the book launch tomorrow, but you can also find out more about Righting Her-Story: Caribbean Women Encounter the Bible Story. So, as is often the case if you want to find who you are looking for, just got to church! Marjorie is pictured here alongside a new WCC colleague Garland Pierce, who will be working closely with the general secretary, Olav Fykse Tveit who preached at the service.

One of the things that really impressed me at Webster Memorial was the scale of their social ministry and the way they manage to hold together tradition and renewal within the congregation. The 10.45 service is more charismatic in feel but this is very much a united church, a place holding together much diversity and celebrating. Perhaps some of that diversity just depends on what time you like to get up on a Sunday morning. Anyway it was a really good place to begin our time at the IEPC.

Friday, 13 May 2011

I hate my enemy but I do not want to blind the one who hates me

I have enemies, I have people I don't like, people who have done harm to me ... there are people out there who don't like me, people who if I am really honest I do not wish well. Of course this is not an easy thing for a minister of the word and sacrament to admit to, but I am not always a very nice person, I keep trying to be better, sometimes I even manage it.

Today I read this story about a woman blinded by acid thrown in her face in a violent and desperately spiteful act. Now she gets to pour acid into the eyes of her attacker - literally an eye for an eye.
Today I was also interviewed for the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation here in Kingston. The Jamaica Council of Churhces is celebrating its 70th anniversary by hosting the world church here in for the IEPC. On Thursday evening they are holding a special event at which Father Michael Lapsley will speak. Lapsley had his hands blown off, was partially blinded and deafened by a letter bomb sent to him in South Africa. He seeks not revenge but forgiveness.
"The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind." said Martin Luther King jr

So how to we hold justice and peace together? An individual has a right to pursue justice, but does justice have to be retribution? How do we combat evil - by becoming evil ourselves or by seeking ways forwards that create win-win situations, restorative justice for ourselves and for others. Does it help a violently blinded person to become the perpetrator of that same act towards another, will vengeance help her to "move on"?
Think of the public expressions of joy when Bin Laden was killed ...

As I approach the opening of the Peace Convocation, I am thinking deeply of my own imperfections as a peace maker, how my own desire for justice sometimes holds me back from stepping forwards in peace. On the radio today I was asked why the World Council of Churches wanted to have this meeting about peace and rather than starting with the history of the Decade to Overcome Violence I simply said "it's because we want to follow the example of Jesus of Nazareth in building peace". Afterwards I wondered about that - do I as a Christian hide behind a sort of moral veneer of non-violence, am I able to practise what I preach. And of course the answer is not always, not always at all. Sometimes peace building means living with the absolute horrible mess of life and trying to celebrate goodness and joy despite everything. Some time ago we read in chapel this meditation by John Lederach on the dynamic relationship between mercy, truth, justice and peace, it is beautifully and powerfully written and comes from real experience of the pain of building peace.

As I continue to meditate and pray about this and about my own lacks in this area all too often I say this prayer:

Lord God preserve me from the hatred of my enemies. Teach me to pray for them and for myself. “Guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79) Amen.

And here is the full quote from Martin Luther King:

Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. It is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding; it seeks to annihilate rather than convert. Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue. Violence ends by defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers.

From first day in Jamaica

Here is a first collage from Jamaica - Members of IEPC spiritual life committee greeting one another and photos of some of the wonderful bougainvilia which is in flower everywhere, also the mural from the University of the West Indies where the Peace convocation will take place. The book shop at the university is a wonderful place (when would this blog ever say any thing else about a book shop!) and has supplied me with some poetry and other ideas to keep me going through the meeting.
I just had to get a picture of the dictionary of Jamaican English - yes I stopped myself from buying it, but listening to folk talking here is quite a challenge. A bit like the difference between Swiss German and German. I'm sort of half reassured that the locals seem to find me just as difficult to understand - it's strange we know we're speaking the same language so we nod and say yes and then have to turn around and ask again for clarification. so far all of this takes place in smiles and laughter. i'm going to have to get my Caribbean ears tuned in better and I really want to be able to say "Kingston" like they do here before I leave.

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Thursday, 12 May 2011

Walking on water to journey to peace ... the IEPC begins

This stunning piece of textile art in patchwork and quilting is called "Journey to Peace" and is by Deborah Stockdale. It is the central work commissioned for the Stitching Peace exhibtion which will come to Jamaica as part of the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation - the exhibition has itself been on a journey, it was displayed in Geneva for a month earlier in the year. Roberta Bacic who curated the exhibition comes from Chile but lives in Northern Ireland. Many of the pieces are packed in Ireland and waiting to come to Kingston as I write this ...

I arrived in Jamaica just after midnight local time last night. Members of the local committee were waiting to meet us at the airport - it was wonderful when feeling so tired to be welcomed and taken to our accommodation. What was interesting though was that even in this brief meeting at a midnight hour with all of us tired, we were already getting into the theme of "just peace". One of the people arriving at the same time as me was a young person from Syria. As we waited we exchanged perhaps rather superficial comments about the situation in Syria with her. Her response was interesting, "much of what is said is propaganda". Given the late hour and our need for sleep after 24 hours of travelling there wasn't time to have much follow up conversation. I'll admit to wishing I could be a fly on the wall at the youth programme where I am sure that discussion and many others will continue.
Once I was compos mentis enough for some cogent thought again this morning after a few hours sleep, I thought back to our conversation last night. It struck me that "just peace" is definitely not about easy slogans or one-size fits all solutions. It's about having good quality and nuanced information about situations (both of conflict and of reconciliation), but it is also in some way trying to come to a judgement about those situation. Not a judgement for all time but a judgement in the here and now. Syria could be a good case in point, but so are many other countries and situaitons.
To be for justice and for peace will often mean knowing not to take sides in a simplisitc way but knowing rather how to stand up for the (gospel) values of peace and justice as such. Sometimes though to be for justice and peace will mean taking sides, and being prepared to be vilified for taking that stance. Being for a just peace is not something static or set in stone it is very much about being on a journey and sometimes it will mean daring to put our feet on what is not solid ground. Daring to get it wrong.
In Deborah's Journey to Peace this sense of moving towards something is clear but what you can't see so clearly from this image is that there are people in the ecumenical boat, people also walking in the labyrinth of peace which is the IEPC logo of locked hands. There are however also people who have stepped out of the boat and are walking on the water. They really are daring to believe that the journey to just peace will carry them on. Pilgrims of hope borne forwards by hope and belief in water and the word... a beautiful baptismal image.
Here in Jamaica we are surrounded by water, all of us coming here have to cross it in some way or another. As we arrive and as we leave Kingston will we dare to go on walking on water into the future so as to build a just peace?

Monday, 2 May 2011

Now That We Have Tasted Hope - a poem by Khaled Mattawa

Listen to Libyan poet and recent winner of the Academy of American Poets Fellowship Khaled Mattawa read his latest for the revolution in Libya on BBC’s “The World Today”

Now That We Have Tasted Hope

Now that we have tasted hope
Now that we have come out of hiding,
Why would we live again in the tombs we’d made out of our souls?

And the sundered bodies that we’ve reassembled with prayers and consolations,
What would their torn parts be other than flesh?

Now that we have tasted hope
And dressed each other’s wounds with the legends of our oneness
Would we not prefer to close our mouths forever shut on the wine
That swilled inside them?

Having dreamed the same dream,
Having found the water that gushed behind a thousand mirages,
Why would we hide from the sun again
Or fear the night sky after we’ve reached the ends of darkness,
Live in death again after all the life our dead have given us?

Listen to me Zow’ya, Beida, Ajdabya, Tobruk, Nalut, Derna, Musrata, Benghazi, Zintan,
Listen to me houses, alleys, courtyards, and streets that throng my veins,
Some day soon
In your freed light and in the shade of your proud trees,
Your excavated heroes will return to their thrones in your martyrs’ squares,
Lovers will hold each other’s hands.

I need not look far to imagine the nerves dying rejecting the life that blood sends them.
I need not look deep into my past to seek a thousand hopeless vistas.
But now that I have tasted hope
I have fallen into the embrace of my own rugged innocence.

How long were my ancient days?
I no longer care to count.
How high were the mountains in my ocean’s fathoms?
I no longer care to measure.
How bitter was the bread of bitterness?
I no longer care to recall.

Now that we have tasted hope,
Now that we have lived on this hard-earned crust,
We would sooner die than seek any other taste to life,
Any other way of being human.


Sunday, 1 May 2011

The deep consolation, the laughter and tearfulness of reading poetry

For the past few days I've been reading the wonderful poems in Neil Astley and Pamela Robinson-Pearce's great anthology of hope Soul Food: Nourishing Poems for Starved Minds.
It is a read that is a voyage of discovery: moving, funny, profound there is real food and hope for starved souls in the 150 pages. We are so saturated and stuffed with images and music, yet here simple well-honed lines keep bringing us back to essentials. Few of the poems are long, many are very short.
I'm grateful for the many poems in translation that are included, opening up not only other languages (truth called "he" rather than "she" or "it") and cultures, but also completely different ways of structuring thoughts, poetry and hope itself.
Dr B even found one to read aloud to me last night, this by the fabulous Carol Ann Duffy, only a Radio 4 listener or a sailor would understand the final line!

Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So, a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims1 sung by a tree, a sudden gift.

Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.

Pray for us now. Grade I piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child's name as though they named their loss.

Darkness outside. Inside, the radio's prayer -
Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.

copyright Carol Ann Duffy

Meanwhile I have this evening been entranced by some poems by Jane Kenyon, in particular the one called Happiness below. It seems quite right that a poet who struggled all her life against depression should write on such a theme. Now I shall have to track down some of the works she translated. I'm always interested in poets who also translate.


There's just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about
, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair

It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basket maker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.
It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.

copyright Jane Kenyon

Anyway, although reading poetry might seem to resolve nothing, it does offer a structure that might be called joy or understanding, consolation or perhaps even hope. Gradually words are beginning to put me back together again, perhaps that is resolution of a kind ...