May 31, 2009
Yesterday I went to Stansted Airport to collect my elder son and his wife from their holiday in Germany. Airports intrigue me because of the complexity of life and relationships you walk into. I think I was the only person speaking English in the Arrivals area. As travellers came through the doors they were greeted by screams and hugs and laughter. The cacophony of languages and the joy of new beginnings inevitably made me reflect on today – Pentecost – when people of all nations and languages were able to hear the good news of Jesus Christ in ways they could understand and celebrate.
In Germany for the Kirchentag last week, I was asked during a panel discussion (on the future of the church) what I thought was the major challenge to the church. I could have offered many responses, but I settled for saying that the most urgent challenge for the church is to speak a language (or languages) that people ‘out there’ can actually hear and understand. For too many people church is associated purely with bad-tempered conflict between people who haven’t got a life – they never get as far as ‘God’ and ‘spirituality’ and ‘good news’. So, the challenge is to enable people to hear and see good news – to create the space in which they can find that they have in fact been found by the God who created and loves and redeems them.
In the light of this, I remember preaching a sermon at Pentecost that clearly did not strike the right notes for some of the visitors in the church that day. Then I concluded by singing (badly) a Bruce Cockburn song with a lovely guitar accompaniment. The song – with Cockburn’s poetry – went where my sermon had not managed to reach:
Somebody touched me
Making everything new
Somebody touched me
I didn’t know what to do
Burned through my life
Like a bolt from the blue
Somebody touched me
I know it was you
Somebody touched me
Deep in my bones
Turned a key in the hole
There was somebody home
Some would say that I’m dreaming
But I swear that it’s true
Somebody touched me
I know it was you
Somebody touched me
Like the rain on the wind
Left me alone
Feeling like I’d been skinned
But I know you’re with me
Whatever I go through
Somebody touched me
I know it was you
May 29, 2009
‘Syncretism’ was a word I learned at theological college. It was pretty obvious from the way it was expressed that ‘syncretism’ is a VERY BAD THING. It basically means the attempted reconciliation or fusion of different or opposing principles (systems of belief), practices, or parties, as in philosophy or religion. It is most often used by one religious group to demonstrate how another has become contaminated by elements of the dominant culture, thus rendering the group impure, suspect and, perhaps, heretical.
What is interesting about syncretism is the fact that whenever the charge is made, it almost always is selective. So, the ‘pure’ church can distinguish itself from the ‘impure’ (syncretistic) church by identifying the particular accommodations made by the other group to the ‘false’ culture. Of course, one of the biblical texts that can be ignored here is the one that refers to ‘motes and beams’ (or splinters and planks).
It might seem odd that I have moved from misery about popular television yesterday to something more esoteric today, but the reason is simple: I have been reading a very interesting book. While at a conference in Paderborn last Monday, Geiko Mueller-Fahrenholz gave me a copy of his book, America’s Battle for God: A European Christian Looks at Civil Religion (2007, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids/Cambridge). It is a fascinating analysis of the American psyche as seen from a European perspective and in chapter 3 he remarks on the selective nature of syncretism when used as a charge against others of the same faith. Having noted that superheroes such as Neo in The Matrix ‘are variations of the Christ figure, but with a “gospel message” markedly different from the biblical one’, he goes on to remark:
The point that concerns me most is that what we encounter here is an interesting – yet irritating – example of syncretism: that is, a melange of Christian and non-Christian images and ideas… I am not overly concerned about religious syncretism, as long as it is understood as a phenomenon that is both unavoidable and constantly in need of self-critical appraisal. Wherever the Christian faith… has taken root, it has to some extent absorbed the cultural habits and religious traditions of its cultural context.
Now, that is undeniable. I hear people scream about all sorts of ‘compromises’ that suit the particular prejudices of particular groups, but no group of Christians (or human beings…) can be exempt from the cultural and social reality of being in the world at a particular time and place. Mueller-Fahrenholz goes on:
But the process of syncretism becomes dangerous when its reality is being denied: in other words, when and where religious communities claim that their message is the “pure” ancestral faith, the “orthodox” representation of the foundational message, then syncretism borders on heresy.
He then singles out conservative evangelical groups - but the critique clearly applies to other ‘parties’ as well – as being ‘deeply influenced by … modern … ideologies, though the movements’ members insist that they are nothing but purely biblical in their orientation’. He concludes as follows:
…it is this claim of orthodoxy that prevents them from seeing how deeply their faith has been invaded by contemporary, neoreligious winner-loser dichotomies.
Basically, his charge is that those who claim most confidently to be ‘biblical’ are simply being (a) blind to their own syncretism and (b) selective in identifying (according to other assumed criteria) the ‘sins’ of others as being syncretistic while assuming that their own lifestyle is ‘orthodox’. For example, Jesus says a lot about money and little about sex. I have been asked to withold Communion from someone having an affair, but nobody has ever asked me to withold Communion from someone whose financial practices might be dodgy. Mueller-Fahrenholz goes on to look at American civil religion and the massive blind spots in American Christian culture – possibly only visible from the outside; the same exercise needs to be done for Europe. But the point is simple: we are all inevitably syncretists and, like alcoholism, the first step to addressing it is to admit it.
We see this running through the arguments in the Anglican Communion as well as other churches and religions. Half a century ago the Anglican Communion handled the matter of polygamy in Africa with wisdom, trust and generosity. The church always needs to have its robust debates about the Bible and ethics, but it also needs the debates to be characterised by what I have called in another context a ‘confident humility’. I can always spot the syncretistic compromises of my neighbour whilst remaining blind to my own and convinced of my own purity of approach.
I think it was the great German evangelical theologian Helmut Thielicke who was asked in a 1950s American seminary what he thought of women wearing make-up – the current divisive taboo. He thought in silence before saying something like: ‘It offends me so much that the tears run down my cheeks, along my cigar and drop into my beer’ – thus identifying a few other American evangelical ‘sins’ that simply weren’t ‘sins’ in Germany. Point made.
May 28, 2009
There is something wonderfully unique about any musical performance. It can never be repeated. Any professional singer knows that your career hangs on the last performance – screw it up and you won’t be booked again. I have often said I would listen to any ‘live’ music performance because there is something powerful about the moment – even if it isn’t great. And I write as the only cleric I know who has been arrested for busking (on the Paris Metro when I was 19).
I remember watching the video of Susan Boyle after her first performance on Britain’s Got Talent. I know there was a load of stuff about the reaction of the judges and how shameful were the prejudices of them and their audience, but what caught me was the almost embarrassing naivete of the singer. She didn’t realise that she was embarrassing, that people were laughing at her and not with her. Then she sang with a confidence that was breathtaking. A few duff notes wouldn’t have bothered me – the fact that she did it was enough.
Then she hit the semi-final, began with a couple of bum notes and made the headlines again – not with the power of her voice or her story, but with reports of her swearing in an hotel, losing the plot and being called a ‘freak’ by some camp narcissist who judges a dance competition. Piers Morgan then goes on the telly to tell the world that Susan Boyle had considered leaving the show before the final. So what?
Well, all this leaves me disturbed. Perhaps I should just lighten up and enjoy the spectacle – hoping she wins. But, then what? I can’t shake off the questions I worried about in relation to Jade Goody.
Does anyone take any responsibility for her and her health in all this? Here we have a woman with learning difficulties who has been lifted out of a world of routines into a world of cameras, total scrutiny and public judgement in which everybody has an opinion about her dress, her appearance, her speech and her character. And instead of an ordinary woman being celebrated for being able to sing and entertain, she enters a world in which she becomes public property and will be taken apart by every nasty-minded little bigot in the world.
Hard words? Yes. But, am I alone in worrying about what is being done to this woman – even if she walked into it voluntarily? Is there not some public cruelty at work here in the stories being told about her, the scrutiny of her swearing and the effects of the pressures upon her? Maybe I am alone in being concerned about her becoming yet more fodder for a hungry entertainment industry that will chew her over, spit her out (when she has lost her commercial taste) and move on to the next ‘thing’. Maybe I am being over-sensitive and should let her take responsibility for herself. Maybe.
But there is something cumulatively disturbing about how she has so quickly been turned into a commercial commodity to be traded and exploited for public titillation, regardless of the cost to her. Another life being potentially ruined before the circus moves on – and nobody takes responsibility for the costs. I guess when it is all over it will be her home church and community that will welcome her back to a place of uncalculating belonging and restore to her the dignity that comes from being a woman they love and care for rather than a product to be packaged.
I hope I am wrong.
May 27, 2009
Posted by nickbaines under Ethics
| Tags: Christians
|  Comments
One of the cultural highlights of last year for me was seeing Cabaret in London’s West End. It made the film seem more emotionally thin than I had remembered it being. Seeing it on stage was powerful and shocking.
Cabaret depicts the end of the Weimar Republic under the violent repression of Nazi terror. What the play portrays most clearly is the way people couldn’t cope with the horrors of what was beginning to happen to them, so sought refuge in the escapist debaucheries of the Berlin night scene. Watching it develop, you can’t help but want to cry out: ‘Can’t you see what you are doing? Can’t you see what is happening – and all you are doing is losing yourselves in ‘pleasure’ while the darkness gradually and violently shrouds the stage?’
This all came to mind during a presentation at an academic conference in Paderborn earlier this week by Geiko Mueller-Fahrenholz – a man put in touch with me last year by Juergen Moltmann. Trying to move us on from consideration of ‘Just War’ theory, he opened up for consideration and discussion a draft World Council of Churches (WCC) text called The Ecumenical Declaration on Just Peace. Having debated it, it seemed obvious that we should focus on a ‘just peace’, given that Just War Theory is usually engaged once war has begun or the decision to go to war has in effect already been taken. In that sense, it becomes a post hoc justification for a war.
In the course of our discussions in Paderborn, Mueller-Fahrenholz spoke of the violence of our culture and our apprent retreat into what I usually call ‘distraction therapy’ – precisely what was happening in the dying days of the Weimar Republic in Germany. The threats are so great and the options so complicated that we distract ourselves with entertainment or trivia – anything to occupy our minds and sensibilities and save us from the fear that reality would otherwise evoke. He quoted someone else (I can’t remember whom) calling this ‘psychic numbing’ – a phrase I found to be helpful as a pithy summary of the complex psychosocial phenomenon.
The thesis behind the search for a just peace is that the earth cannot sustain our ways of being human together. Christians must be committed to both peace on earth and peace with the earth, but the cost of this is high and many Christian theologies – shaped by other syncretistic assumptions – simply cannot face it. For example, rather than address the likelihood of there being 150 million climate refugees within forty years, we prefer to put our heads down and – in the words of Neil Postman in relation to the media – ‘amuse ourselves to death’.
This ‘psychic numbing’ provokes a sort of ‘distraction therapy’ that focuses our attentions on smaller matters that might be important in their own right, but not in terms of the bigger picture and the bigger threats. Whereas not everybody will resort to the hedonism of Weimar Berlin, we can submerge ourselves in an obsession with celebrity, entertainment or something else. Entertainment is a good thing and vital to a good life; but not when it becomes a means of retreating from the real world.
When I feel like burying my head with boredom or fear at the threats to the world, I look at my children and (future… maybe) grandchildren and remember that I shape their world by my decisions and neglects and distractions now. Hiding, therefore, cannot be an option for anyone who sees the issues and is, therefore, morally bound to choose what to do in response. Working towards a just peace should become the preoccupation of politicians, media and religious leaders at every level of life. We are clearly not there yet.
For Christians there are at least two challenges here. First, the focus of Christian ecumenical discussion needs to move from preoccupations with internal ‘purities’ to addressing our common agendas as human beings through a commonly-held Christian lens. Build up the church by all means; but only in order then to serve the world that is God’s and of which we are stewards. Second, just how far are some of our preoccupations, arguments and worship cultures simply an alternative form of escapist ‘distraction therapy’ – focusing our attention on things that get us going and fill our minds and time, but distract us from the big questions that matter more?
Geiko Mueller-Fahrenholz has put his finger on an important challenge here – one he also sees as an opportunity for the churches to get their act together and recover their primary vocation. I need to think further and see where this takes me in my own responsibilities.
May 26, 2009
OK, I’m back from Germany and enjoying trawling the German media coverage of the Kirchentag in Bremen. I’ll write some more about some of the ideas floating around my mind following the Kirchentag itself and the subsequent academic conference in Paderborn once I get some head space. But, given the ’lively’ response to my earlier posts about the MPs expenses and newspaper exposure/coverage of it, I was glad of a view from abroad. A bit of distance always helps check one’s perspective and conversation with press people in Germany was both welcome and instructive. This afternoon I got back and thought I’d catch up on the English coverage.
Forgive my amazement, but the first article I went to was in the Daily Telegraph and was entitled MPs’ expenses: politicians and church leaders defend Telegraph’s investigation. Senior politicians and church leaders have urged the Telegraph to continue its investigation highlighting the MPs’ expenses scandal. Nothing surprising there, I thought, and nearly passed on. But, call me pedantic – I decided to read the piece. And that’s where the problems began.
There was strong opposition to a call from Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, for an end to the “systematic humiliation” of MPs, which he claimed was undermining democracy. Politicians from all the major parties defended the two and a half weeks of revelations by The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph. They echoed the growing sense of public anger and said that greedy MPs, not the newspapers, were to blame for the scale of the scandal and the damage to Parliament’s reputation.
The writers go on to quote two MPs who disagree (to differing degrees) with the Archbishop of Canterbury and Norman Tebbit who sort of possibly agrees with him. But, I was still waiting for the ‘church leaders’ to voice their opposition to Rowan Williams and their praise for the Telegraph. Er… am I missing something? George Carey is not a church leader – he is retired (apparently). Michael Nazir-Ali talks complete sense, but doesn’t appear to contradict the Archbishop – if anything, he reinforces the Lambeth line. Vincent Nichols also gets a look in, but doesn’t disagree with his ecumenical colleague across the Thames.
Then we are off to the BNP and some poll suggesting that people would like to be able to vote for ‘independents’.
Can anyone explain how the headline is supported by the article? Or am I right to come back from Germany with a continuing suspicion of the stuff still being dripped in the UK?
And, before the accused start getting upset again that I am hitting the wrong target, let me repeat what I have said all along: there is no excuse for the MPs’ behaviour and change is urgently needed; but the media cannot simply run away from a challenge to them. Why is it not legitimate to question more than one practice at a time?
A further example? In the Church of England Newspaper I am accused of hitting the wrong target. ‘Bishop Nick Baines … seems to think it is mostly about the way the press has handled the story, rather than the wrongdoing on the part of Parliamentarians.’ Utter nonsense. ’As well as’ would have been accurate; ‘rather than’ is simply misleading.
May 24, 2009
Posted by nickbaines under church
| Tags: Bremen
| 1 Comment
The Kirchentag is now about to conlude under clear blue skies and a warm sun. Tens of thousands of people have made their way to the Buergeweide for the Closing Service, but I have to prepare to leave for a conference in Paderborn. Just time for some concluding reflections on the Kirchentag.
1. The Kirchentag does not take place in a private place, but in the heart of a living city. Every day we walk past the red light clubs and the business of the city goes on. The worship, seminars and workshops (around 2,500 in three days) go on in the public space – a refusal to park religion in the ghetto where people who like that sort of thing can get on with it in private. Last night, as we were looking for somewhere to eat, a reflective service was going on in the Marktplatz – hundreds of people at the heart of the city, unashamedly praying and bringing questions of life, politics, economics, society to the public square.
2. It has caught the imagination locally. The theme of the Kirchentag has been ‘Mensch, wo bist du?’ (Where are you?). The regional SPD welcomes visitors to Bremen with placards stating ‘Schoen, dass du da bist!’ (We are glad you are here!). The ‘pub’ we ate in last night is called Die Staendige Vertretung: waiters wore t-shirts with ‘Mensch, wo bist du? on the back, and underneath ‘in der Staendigen Vertretung!’ (Where are you? I am in the SV pub!). It is great to see how the funny side of a serious business has caught the imagination of the local (secular?) society and the whole city has joined in the fun. Christians have captured the public imagination, partly by choosing a theme and wording that invited response and engagement from all people – wonderful.
3. The press coverage of the Kirchentag has been interesting. The local Weser Kurier has put out a special edition every day of the Kirchentag and has provided good (not always uncritical, but always fair and intelligent) coverage of what has actually been going on here. There is a clear celebration of the event locally – even among those who don’t actually want to be part of it. As far as I have been able to see, the national press has also covered the event with intelligence, fairness and humour. Journalists take the substance seriously and don’t just look for holes and contradictions to exploit – that there will be holes, inconsistencies and contradictions is assumed and accepted.
4. There is a robustness about the Kirchentag which allows for enormous diversity of approach on the grounds that people are grown up enough to think, make their own minds up and argue the toss when they wish. There is an intellectual and cultural maturity to the whole thing that makes me want to stay here. For example, serious and lively discussions about religious education in schools has not been accompanied by the sillinesses we have come to expect in England – look at the recent spat between Ekklesia and others on this matter, for example.
5. Serious questions about the future development of the EKD are being asked and the debates are robust and demanding – as they should be. But what is immediately remarkable is the mutual respect with which ‘opponents’ treat each other and the rigour with which arguments are articulated. With few exceptions (in my experience), people behave like adults and Christians who love God, the church and the world and want to bring all three together.
So, there are some concluding thoughts and the clear suggestion of a regret that such an event in England is hard to imagine. I don’t have illusions about the Germans or their church, but I do have close experience of the way they are proceeding with facing change. I think it is impressive – regardless of whose vision will end up being implemented.
Now to Paderborn.
May 23, 2009
The last full day of the Kirchentag has been full and stimulating as ever. The day began with thousands of people listening to a Bible study by Prefessor Dr Juergen Ebach – an Old Testament theologian – doing an exposition of Genesis 16:1-16. This is the story of Sarai, Abram, Hagar and Ishmael. I used the word ‘exposition’ deliberately because being in Germany reminds me of what good exposition is about.
Much of what has passed in my experience as ‘expository preaching’ has been nothing of the sort. While purporting to be expounding the biblical passage, it actually squeezes the passage through a filter that is shaped in the ‘right’ way. What we have had this week has been an antidote to this. Kaessmann and Ebach have stuck closely to the text, allowing the text to challenge the assumptions we bring to it.
Ebach began this morning by asking: Who was the first person in the Bible (a) to be addressed by a messenger from God, (b) to give God a name and (c) to escape slavery? The answer is Hagar, the Egyptian who does a reverse of the exodus by escaping from the Israelite-to-be. In this context Ebach also noted how weak a man is Abram in the dispute between Sarai and Hagar – in common with most of the men in this strongly patriarchal society.
There is too much in this to explore here late at night, but the full text is available for those who read German. Ebach touches on ownership of ‘the Land’, the nature of the ‘others’ and the nature and vocation of Ishmael.
Anyway, a lunch with my German publishers was followed immediately by a 3.5 hour session on Church Reform (Podium Kirchenreform). I was a member of a panel for a 1.5 hour discussion ranging widely over a number of related matters, but the limitations of my spoken German let me down once or twice. I went straight from there to help lead an ecumenical service in Bremen and eventually got out to eat with friends at around 10pm. Hence the lack of an interesting post this evening.
More – once I have got my thoughts a bit more sorted.
Tomorrow the Kirchentag closes, but I will be leading an ecumenical visit to Paderborn for a service in Paderborn Cathedral (RC) in the afternoon and an academic conference on Monday. More anon.
May 22, 2009
It is hard to describe an arena filled with around 10,000 people listening to a Bible study. I thought there would be no problem getting in to hear Margot Kaessmann, Bishop of Hannover, taking us through the Good Samaritan. My money is on her to get elected as Chair of the Council of the EKD in the autumn in succession to the excellent Wolfgang Huber.
Margot Kaessmann (MK) is one of the best communicators in the German Church today. She is brilliant with the media and she has the rare gift of being as good in print as she is with the spoken word. It is not surprising that her preaching attracts huge crowds and that she is immensely popular. She is unafraid to tackle tough subjects, but does so with a directness and generosity that is very attractive. And, in case you think I am being an uncritical fan, I need to confess that she wrote the foreword to the German edition of my book Finding Faith (launched this month).
She recognised at the outset that some biblical texts become over-familiar with repetition and that it can become hard to get behind them in a fresh way. But, she said, the context in which the texts are being read does keep changing – and this presents the challenge of how to read and expound the text at different times and in different places. She then took the parable in three stages and drew from it implications for the church in the world, called to prove its love for God by ‘love of neighbour’.
Without going through her address systematically, I’ll just note several points:
1. She told the story of how on Kristallnacht a synagogue (in Hannover or Hamburg – I didn’t catch that bit) burned down. The fire brigade stood back and let it burn. The synagogue was located next door to the Church Office (the equivalent of our diocesan offices). As it wasn’t a church that was burning, the business of the Church Office just continued the next day without interruption. Quoting some scary anti-semitic propaganda from the NPD (neo-Nazis), she asked if we are a church that loves our neighbour and reaches the wider world, or one that is preoccupied with internal churchy reform at the expense of the world.
2. Challenging the cynical appeal of former free-market capitalists for social protection (when the markets let them down and their own lives were affected), she questioned whether love of neighbour allows us to continue to assume that ‘cheap is good’. She raised the interesting question of who decides when someone becomes ‘handicapped’? Is there a scale according to which when some reaches a particular point they qualify as ‘handicapped’ or ‘disabled’? Who decides which criteria apply?
3. She identified generosity as characteristic of Christian love. She concluded (among other things) that the church will only be renewed by looking outwards and being less concerned with its own internal business.
What is notable (but impossible to convey) is the massive affection and respect in which bishops like MK are held here. There is a deep humanity about MK which comes over: a woman small in stature and tall in theological and spiritual integrity. It was a privilege to be there, even though I have heard her severla times before today.
I went from there to be interviewed by the EKD Media on what they call ‘the Red Sofa’. The interview revolved around my two books in German and the place of contemporary music in the church’s engagement with culture. It was a stimulating conversation with a good audience and good interviewer – even though my German let me down a couple of times in the half-hour we were talking.
The evening took us to the other side of Bremen for a Meissen Service at which I was preaching in English. The church was packed, the music was great and the host pastor wonderful. We worshipped together and then experienced the generous hospitality that we had been told earlier is characteristic of genuine Christian love: food and beer. It made the miserable weather seem brighter and warmer for a while.
So, no great revelations. Just the sort of day the Kirchentag allows: variety, stimulation, fun and serious conversation with friends and strangers.
May 21, 2009
Posted by nickbaines under church
| Tags: Bremen
, Garton Ash
|  Comments
In 1908 a group of German Christians saw the clouds of conflict coming over Europe and dreaded the horror of Christians killing Christians as enemies in a war. They formed an ecumenical peace delegation and 131 of them travelled to London and Cambridge in an effort to strengthen the relationships between German and English Christians in the face of the threat. This group of Protestants, Roman Catholics and Free Church delegates met in the Bremer Ratskeller before boarding the ship bound for England. And that is where I was at lunchtime today.
The visit was notable for the journey that began it. German Protestants and Catholics did not know each other – they travelled on different trains to Bremen. But they had to board the same boat. The boat set sail, but hit a sandbank where it sat waiting for the tide to lift it off. You’ll get no marks for spotting the parabolic significance of that one…
Last year a group of Germans visited London and Cambridge in commemoration of the 1908 visit. This allowed for some serious engagement between the Germans and English, including a one-day conference in Cambridge with Juergen Moltmann and Richard Bauckham giving excellent theological papers.
In 1909 the Brits did a return visit – 109 delegates included Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and Quakers. Under the slogan ‘Peace through encounter’, they visited Hamburg, Berlin, Eisenach, Bethel and Bremen. In Bremen 3000 people joined together in the Cathedral at the end of the visit to say farewell and ensure that the relationships would survive whatever events would later lead the countries to war against each other.
The reception today took place in the place where the two groups met 100 years ago and was moving. It could be argued that European ecumenism began in Bremen 100 years ago. The challenges faced today are different, but it remains the case that the relationships will outlive the paperwork. Ecumenism is changing – representative bureaucracy is giving way to a dynamic approach to developing relationships and coalitions in order that Christian churches can be more effective in their engagement with the world (rather than obsessed with details of relations between churches).
On Sunday I lead a delegation to Paderborn to commemorate the 1909 visit.
So, back to the Kirchentag and what makes it work. Matt Wardman has made some interesting observations in a response to my earlier post. He wrote:
1 – It cannot be on a showground in the middle of nowhere. That is an institutional acceptance of privatisation and a type of sectarianism before you even start – as you say. Perhaps I should recognise that there is definitely place for “resource events” – provided that the resources end up going somewhere.
2 – It must be cross-cutting – denominationally and to transcend any sacred/secular divides.
3 – I’m tempted to suggest that, like the Kirchentag, it should be a lay movement.
How would it work here?
I’d throw out 2 thoughts.
Firstly that the setting must be urban to ensure an “in society” setting, with a full mixture of venues to ensure that it is not religious people talking to each other behind closed doors.
Secondly that one set of organisations with the inherent clout to draw really high profile speakers, and the breadth of projects/networks to pull something together, are the cathedrals – headlined by the Anglicans and the RCs. Then many other venues and organisations could follow that spearhead.
That leaves me with the idea of a varied festival rotating between centres with cathedrals in urban settings every 2 years.
Interesting. The Kirchentag is lay-led and that clearly makes a massive difference. There are no barriers between church, media, politics, culture, etc as everything is regarded as open to discussion and argument. This presupposes a confidence in both the faith and the institution of the church that sponsors (and pays) for it. The Kirchentag takes over an entire city – which obviously brings a huge economic boost to that place. But it makes the point that setting such an event in a ‘holy’ (set aside) place would be hopeless.
As we saw today with Huber, Merkel and Garton Ash, church cannot be protected from the wider world. Nor can the wider world be protected from a church which refuses to be ghettoised into a place of private interest.
May 21, 2009
Posted by nickbaines under church
| Tags: Angela Merkel
, Timothy Garton Ash
, Wolfgang Huber
|  Comments
Where else would you find people queuing early in the morning to hear a Bible Study in a hall that seats in the region of 10,000 people? We turned up for Bishop Wolfgang Huber’s Bible study on Genesis 3 an hour before it started and joined the queue that was already enormous and very good-humoured. Huber (who retires as Bishop of Berlin-Brandenburg-schlesiche-Oberlausitz and Chairman of the Council of the EKD later this year) is a brilliant communicator and the hour goes quickly – full of memorable phrases and passionate rhetoric. He also knows how to press the right buttons and he is constantly interrupted by applause. It felt a bit like a rally.
The most interesting parts of Huber’s address will need separate treatment later when I have read the text. But he made some intersting observations about power, responsibility and the human propensity to deny responsibility, shift it or blame someone else. Assuming that Genesis 3 asks ‘how we got to where we are as human beings?’, he also pointed out those parts of the ‘Eden’ narrative that easily get forgotten: that the serpent lied – Adam and Eve did not die – and that, despite everything, it was God who searched for Adam and Eve (not the other way round) and God who clothed them. Draw your own conclusions about what this says to a humanity that knows it is naked and can be seen through by the eyes of a God who is interested not only in exposing the badness, but caring for the consequences.
Huber’s address was followed by a remarkable discussion between Angela Merkel (Bundeskanzlerin) and Prof. Dr. Timothy Garten Ash (Oxford). The theme concerned ‘freedom and responsibility’, but ranged over democracy, history and memory.
TGA asked whether the Germans had been able to build such a good and strong civil structure because it had had to deal with a difficult past: the Protestant Reformation, two World Wars and Nazism, then the DDR. He later observed that it is hard to hold on to two histories (FRG and GDR), but that the GDR would soon be forgotten: it was too short-lived and was artificial anyway. The discussion was interesting because Merkel (a daughter of the ‘manse’) is from East Germany and twenty years ago had a very different future ahead of her.
I cannot do justice to the discussion as I had to leave after only forty minutes, but it was robust, informed, intelligent and really interesting. (TGA spoke very good German.) Is this why something like 7,000 people listened to Huber and Merkel, many of them sitting on cardboard boxes?
Enough for now. I am leading an ecumenical service this evening, but will return to say more about the Ratskeller, the 1908/09 exchanges and what it is that makes this event so unique.
Next Page »