Posted in Church of England, climate change, politics

The End of Moderation

Today – you may not know this – is the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, and the beginning of the season in the church when we are asked to give special attention to the Creation of which we are part, and which we have as a species failed so spectacularly to look after. It is perhaps symptomatic of our continuing ignorance that I didn’t know until I started to write this post that the World Day of Prayer for Creation even existed, let alone when it was. Like so many other worthy things that people ask the church to remember, the idea that there was a season of creation around now was there in the back of my mind, but never centre stage.

This year, that needs to end. Caring for our common home has to move to the front of our list of concerns, because if it doesn’t we may not have one. We are now at crisis point: in the very literal sense of the word crisis. Krisis in New Testament Greek does not mean ‘impending disaster’ – it means ‘judgement’. We are now at the time of judgement in relation to our planet and its future. The time for lengthy discussion and moderate action was a generation ago, and collectively we did nothing – or so very little that it has left us still looking at disastrous changes to our planet. The need for action is as urgent and as great as it was when the coronavirus epidemic began to spread. Over the last few years the strategy originally developed by tobacco companies has been used very effectively: the 3 D’s of deny, delay and deflect. Climate change is now becoming undeniable, but the dragging of corporate and government feet, and the reluctance of us as citizens and consumers to actually change our lives, continues to delay real change. And if all else fails there’s always the final tactic, of trying to get us to think about something more palatable or entertaining.

For the churches and for us as Christians, this is not some side issue: this is about God’s judgement on us as disciples. The excuses are gone, the argument is over: if we are to take seriously the mandate of creation, to be stewards of God’s creation, we have to act, and we have to act now. It will be costly, and complicated, and messy – but we have no alternative. The church’s purpose in existence is to live out and call others into the life of conversion: to join in with God’s purposes of love for the world. At this present time, that joining in with the mission of God calls us to be converted from our destruction of creation in order to restore and care for it.

It may feel to you – it certainly feels to me – as if this is yet another emergency when we’ve had quite enough. Sadly emergencies don’t form an orderly queue or wait until you’re feeling strong enough to deal with them. By definition, they have to be responded to right now. But for us as Christians there is always also hope, and even joy, to be had when we are doing the thing which is God’s will for us. Caring for creation is also caring for ourselves: we are a part of that whole ecology of which we are stewards. In focusing again on this calling, we are also focusing on our own wellbeing. One of the paradoxes of the ongoing process of conversion is that when we allow God’s Spirit to be at work in us, painful as it may be, the new life that opens up for us is more joyful, more fulfilling, and most of the time just happier than the life we were living. Even neuroscientists are catching up with the fact that acting with kindness makes people feel better – well, who knew? Caring for our world is not a chore or a penance, but an invitation to joy, an invitation to be part of the original purpose of our creation. Remember, the command to be stewards of creation came before Adam and Eve ate the unfortunate apple. It was what they were to do in Eden, in the world as God wanted it to be. It’s rooted in our humanity, deeper than our DNA.

Caring for creation is mission; it is witness to the difference that Christian faith makes; it is conversion to the way of Jesus Christ. As we begin, however slowly and tentatively, and still carrying levels of exhaustion, to emerge from the pandemic, now is the moment to think about how the church will look in the years to come. The strapline for the Church of England’s national initiative is that we should be ‘simpler, humbler and bolder’. I think those are the right words – as long as they are held in combination, each qualifying the others. And a key part of being bolder, I believe, will be having the courage to recognise where we must speak and act. The Church of England has an honourable history of not wanting to exclude any who disagree, the downside of which can be a paralysing inability to take a position on anything except the most anodyne of issues. We need to move that balance, and recognise that in some things moderation is not a virtue – in fact it is a sin.

The future of the church, if it is to have one, is in the renewal of parishes as communities of action, as the conscience of their locality, as leaders in witnessing for a changed society. I have focused here on climate change: if only that were the only issue that requires our attention. Don’t let it be thought that I’m ignoring the needs of the world’s poor, of refugees and asylum seekers like those we have seen desperate to escape from the Taliban in Afghanistan, or victims of racial or other discrimination. And I am only too aware that coronavirus hasn’t gone away, and that there is much pastoral care to give as we continue to deal with that threat. It is only by God’s strength that we can be sufficient to these things.

The situation we face around us must drive us to prayer. One of the most appropriate prayers for our present time comes from that ancient observance of Rogationtide – days of prayer for the fruitfulness of the earth and human labour.

God our Father,
you never cease the work you have begun
and prosper with your blessing all human labour:
make us wise and faithful stewards of your gifts
that we may serve the common good,
maintain the fabric of our world
and seek that justice where all may share
            the good things you pour upon us;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Posted in climate change

Whose emergency?

Today is the beginning of the church’s season of creation, part of our liturgical year which rolls around every year. And that is becoming a problem. We still have the feeling that there will be another chance, another opportunity. But the creation itself is already in the last chance saloon. There isn’t any time left, if we want future generations to celebrate a creation that looks anything like it does now. We have an emergency on our hands. (If you don’t believe me, read this.)

Human beings aren’t very good in emergencies, sadly, especially when it’s not obvious that it’s our own emergency. Even in much more immediate settings the bystander effect comes into play.

When a young woman was stabbed to death outside her apartment building while a number of people watched and did nothing has stimulated a study of how people react in an unclear emergency situation. The findings illustrated that the more people who saw the incident, the less likely they were prepared to act. This means that we not only rely on others to recognise the seriousness of the situation but we are also diffusive of responsibility.

So how can the global emergency of climate change, which everyone is watching, how can that possibly become my emergency? Only I think by becoming something that costs me, that I am invested in. If the woman being attacked had been the partner or daughter of any of those watching, i doubt if they would have waited for others to react.

So what is it that makes something important for you? For some, the destruction of the global climate does it. But for most people – as is obvious from the lack of action so far – it needs to be something much closer to home. And it needs ideally to be something that you are doing alongside others. If your friends, or family, or colleagues are doing it too, whatever “it” may be, then each of you reinforce the sense that this is worthwhile and important.

Do something now – something that costs. Money, time, energy, comfort: it doesn’t matter, really, as long as whatever you do is a commitment. Make yourself committed; make this your emergency. Don’t be taken in by the deceptive fact that your individual action won’t make much difference. Yes it’s true, but what will make a difference is when enough people think preserving our planet is their own priority, not someone else’s. Then change will happen.

It’s not going to happen from above, from governments, until they think it will affect their votes. So it has to happen from below, from the actions of millions of ordinary people who know we don’t have time left to wait for someone else to do something. This is your own planet that’s under attack. How will you help to save it?

Posted in climate change, Poverty and Justice

for the love of …

An intriguing name for a day lobbying parliament about the dangers of climate change.

For the love of – the world? humanity? God? … well, it depends what you really love, doesn’t it? other options suggested on the website include, chocolate, heron, farming in Ethiopia, coral reefs, cheese and – picture of a young father with a baby  -‘my son’ (and there are lots more).

Human beings, very naturally, tend to love what’s close, what’s immediate. We love (most of us) our families and friends; we love places – if we’re lucky, the places where we live; we sometimes love our jobs. We don’t really love people we’ve never met, or places we’ve never been to. And not all of us connect the future lives of our children or grand-children with the sort of car we drive or how we heat our houses

So how can we love the world of the future, and the people of the future, enough to do something now which is difficult, costly and extremely inconvenient: like stopping burning carbon-based fuels? What can possibly give us the energy to make such a change? At the moment, the answer would appear to be, nothing very much. Politicians reckon, probably rightly, that if they were to implement the sorts of measures which would actually demonstrate that love for the distant future, they would lose their own jobs in the immediate future.

the for the love of … website tries to make the connections for almost anyone to something they really love – something worth doing something about. But it’s really like trying to get water to run uphill. Let me share with you the one response we got on twitter when the Diocese of Southwark shared this photo:

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It went: ‘the good Lord stuck the Sun up there to keep us warm by another 2 degs get over it’. Not so easy for those who will lose their land, or their livelihood, or their life.

What can we do? Well, those of us who preach can preach – unashamedly. We can sign up to the Lambeth Declaration, launched today, and use it to provoke our churches into discussion and action. And we can encourage our MPs that they’re more likely to get our vote, not less, if they support meaningful action, soon.

I’m very much looking forward to reading the authorised version of Pope Francis’ encyclical. (Incidentally, has no one told those Republican Catholics that they’re meant to be obeying the Pope, not the other way round? Yes, even when he talks about things they don’t like.) I hope he brings this whole issue back to love: the love of God. In both directions: the love God shows in creating a world of such beauty and richness; and our love which should be shown in taking up the gift given to Adam and Eve – of being stewards of such a great gift. It’s not a job we’ve done very well up to now, but for the love of God …