Monday, 22 October 2018

Live in the light

The final study in the Tenants of the King booklet focused on a passage from Romans 13, about submitting to the governing authorities.  As I read through the study, it seemed less about submitting to authorities, and more about engaging with and challenging them.  So I found Ephesians 5:8-16 instead. For me, this passage sums up the kind of things that churches can do.

For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light.  Live as children of light - for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true.  Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.  Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.  For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light.  Therefore it says, 'Sleeper awake!  Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.'  Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil.

image credit: Pixabay

Support what is good already

...for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true.

Earlier this year I attended an Eco Church conference.  One of the seminars was about taking church outdoors (something I often wish for when it's a sunny Sunday!) and a quote which stuck with me was: "Don't just look for misery and how we can help.  Look for the good stuff that you want the church to be part of."

By Jeff Schuler, via Wikimedia Commons

Often as Christians we feel like we have to set up our own sanctified projects.  But, especially on a local level, there may be a lot going on already.  Does your area have a community garden?  a Friends of the Park group?  a wildlife trust?  a nature reserve?  If people from the church get involved with these things, they can gain expertise in caring for the environment, as well as building links between the church and the community around it.

Looking wider, there are many national and international charities to get involved with.  Christian ones include A Rocha, Operation Noah and Tearfund. Others include Avaaz, who campaign on many issues, including environmental ones; Greenpeace, Surfers Against Sewage, and WWF.  Supporting them can be as simple as adding your email to an online petition.

Expose the works of darkness

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.  For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly...

Go on, admit it.  You read that second sentence and thought, "oh yes, nudge nudge, wink wink, we all know what that means..."  OK, admittedly Paul was talking about fornication in the previous paragraph.  But that's a long way from being the only shameful secret.  What about pouring toxins into the water supply and covering it up?  What about ignoring environmental laws to make a bigger profit?  What about corrupt governments taking handouts from energy companies?

Many of these are issues of injustice, and the church already has a good track record on challenging injustice.  It has campaigned on issues from slavery to debt relief to fair trade.  Maybe you hadn't realised that climate change is a justice issue too - the poorest and least able to cope will bear the largest burden.  As the IPCC report said, “A key finding of the report is that these efforts to limit global warming to 1.5C can actually go hand in hand with many others intended to address issues of inequality and poverty eradication.”  The church needs to speak out and take its part in exposing environmental injustice around the world.

By KVDP, from Wikimedia Commons


Bring things into Christ's light

...everything that becomes visible is light.

Once the works of darkness are exposed, they can be changed.  It's surprising how something obvious can be invisible.  Take plastic packaging for instance.  I never used to "see" all the plastic bags that my vegetables came in.  Now, every time I turn around, there's another one!  Use an onion: bag in the bin.  Finish the peppers: bag in the bin.  Put the apples in the fruit bowl: bag in the bin.

But now I've seen them, I can change.  I got my first veg box the other day.  A whole box full of fresh produce, and not a plastic bag in sight!



All of us in the study group admitted that we'd never thought to pray about environmental issues, even if we were concerned about them.  Jesus wakes us up and shines a light in our faces, says Paul.  What blind spots is he illuminating in your life?  And what is he waking you up to do?


Be wise and make the most of the time

Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil.

There's a book I may have to get hold of, called The Parents' Guide to Climate Revolution by Mary DeMocker.  In this review of it, the reviewer suggests that the book's key message is, "it’s better to skip washing out the peanut butter jar... and then use the time to call our congressperson."

Translated from the American, that means that she's suggesting that it's more critical to lobby our MPs to pass laws about cleaner energy, than it is to cut every last piece of plastic out of our lives.  Sure, the small things are good steps in the right direction.  But right now we have 12 years or less to slash carbon emissions.  What will have the biggest effect?

Mary DeMocker points out that parents are actually well-placed to influence others, because they tend to have large social networks.  Interestingly, a similar comment was made at the Eco Church conference regarding churches - they are more influential than they might think.

Even if you don't feel you know many people, you have an MP you can write to, a supermarket you shop at, a local council you can lobby, a Facebook account you can share stuff on.

What is the most important thing for you to do now?


Introduction: Compostable Christians
Study 1: The Importance of Creation
Study 2: Groaning Inwardly
Study 3: Do Not Fear!
Study 4: Live in the Light

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Do not fear!

I'm scared.  Are you?

When a group of scientists releases a report on climate change which basically says "Sort it out now.  Or else." that's pretty scary.

When we hear that species are going extinct at a rate of thousands per year, that's pretty scary.

When you see pictures of the amount of plastic in the sea, that's pretty scary too.
Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters

Even when we're doing our best to help the environment, we're aware that the whole way we live is unsustainable.  Just by living in a centrally-heated house, with running water and electric lights, driving a car and eating imported food, we are using more resources than any other humans in history.  But - even given a 12-year deadline - there doesn't seem to be any easy way to change this.

It's all scary.  But fear often stifles us, not stimulates us.  How do we get away from our fear?

Jesus on the Lake

Rembrandt: The Storm on the Sea of Galilee
Our Bible study looked at two stories of Jesus on Lake Galilee with his disciples.  Matthew tells them both, and I'd never noticed how much they mirror each other.  Look at this:

When Jesus got into the boat, his disciples followed him.  A gale arose on the lake, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep.  And they went and woke him up, saying, 'Lord, save us!  We are perishing!'  And he said to them, 'Why are you afraid, you of little faith?'  Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm.  They were amazed, saying, 'What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?'
Matthew 8:23-27

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side... And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake...  So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus.  But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, 'Lord, save me!'  Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, 'You of little faith, why did you doubt?'  When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.  And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, 'Truly you are the Son of God.'
Matthew 14:22, 25, 29-32

It's the same conversation both times.  The disciples call for help, Jesus remarks on their lack of faith, and fixes the problem.  In the first story, however, they finish with a question: 'who is this man?' and in the second, they have their answer: 'he is the Son of God'.  Despite their 'little faith', they have arrived at a new knowledge of who Jesus is.

These stories deal with fear and faith in a natural world which seems out of control.  Here are several possible responses to environmental problems which arise out of fear.  What can we learn about the kind of faith which overcomes our fear?

It's all down to me
Half of the disciples were fishermen.  Being on a lake, in a boat, in a high wind, was surely familiar to them.  They knew what to do, and they were doing it just as hard as they could.  But it wasn't making any difference.  And they were scared.

Sometimes we feel like saving the earth is all down to us.  We have to drive less and recycle more and use less plastic and buy ethical clothing and source clean energy and... it's exhausting, and as hard as we work, it doesn't seem to make any difference.

Unfortunately, Jesus doesn't seem to be stepping in for us, to make everything calm.  It's a little more complicated having faith when there isn't an instant answer.  But apart from calming the storm, Jesus drags his disciples attention firmly back to himself.  He is the creator and sustainer of the world, the one whom winds and sea obey.  Faith isn't just asking for help when things get bad.  Faith is keeping our focus on Jesus.

I don't know what to do!
Sometimes we feel like Peter - we've got out of the boat, but now the problems look bigger than we thought, and we're stuck!  It's easy to panic when we're confronted with complicated issues.  Yes, let's eat differently to help the earth.  But do we go vegan? eat organic? avoid plastic? avoid imported food?  How much will it cost?  Do we have to survive on lentils?

Amidst all this, Jesus reaches out his hand to us and says, 'I've got you.  Just one step at a time now.'  M.J. Wilkins describes faith as "consistent trust in Jesus to accomplish what Peter is called to do".  We can't do everything, but if we take one step, and then another, we can keep going in the right direction.  Faith is keeping our focus on Jesus, and then moving towards him.

God will sort it all out
Or maybe we go to the other extreme.  We can't cope, we don't know what to do - but hey, we believe in God, don't we?  He can sort it all out.

You would think that Jesus would react positively to his disciples saying, 'Lord, save us!' wouldn't you?  Doesn't that prove that they're trusting in him?  Interestingly, his response is scathing: 'You of little faith!'

The kind of faith that turns to Jesus only when we're out of other options is not, apparently, very creditable.  Nor is the kind that uses him as an excuse to do nothing.  Jesus wants far more from his friends.  He wants a big faith.  A faith that says, yes, this is hard and scary and dangerous, but because Jesus is with us, we're going to do it anyway.

Faith is keeping our focus on Jesus, moving towards him, and gaining courage as we do.

Making a boat

In our study group, we made a list of our fears for the world.  Then we folded that list into a paper boat, to remind us to react not out of fear, but out of faith.  Yes, there are a lot of reasons to be scared.  But when Jesus is with us on the lake, there are a lot more reasons to have faith.


Introduction: Compostable Christians
Study 1: The Importance of Creation
Study 2: Groaning Inwardly
Study 3: Do Not Fear!
Study 4: Live in the Light

Monday, 1 October 2018

Groaning inwardly

I begin to see why people don't have a theology of the environment.  It gets very messy very quickly.  We thrashed our way through Romans 8:18-23 for our second Tenants of the King Bible study, and wrestled with such unanswerable questions as: What is creation waiting for and when will it happen?  Do our sins cause environmental problems?  If creation is being redeemed along with us, what does that mean?  Does "a new earth" mean a completely different one, or one which is the same but renewed?

Well!  Can I just go and recycle a few tin cans in peace now?

Let's go back to the basics.  We humans are part of the universe.  We can't live without it, but we also persist in regarding ourselves as separate to it.  If you picture "the environment" do you include bridges, skyscrapers, oil refineries?  Probably not.  But they are all just as much made of bits of the earth as rocks, rivers and trees.

Image credit: Pixabay

So why do we put man-made things in a separate category?  Why do we think that they shouldn't really be part of "the environment"?  Perhaps because we're aware that humans have a disproportionately large effect on this world - and generally a negative one.  I was stunned to read in Sapiens that there is strong evidence to support the theory that whenever humans moved to a new part of the world, mass extinctions of the local wildlife followed swiftly after.  These are not the extinctions we're causing now, with our industrial activity.  They're not even the ones when the European explorers decimated the dodo and gulped up the Galapagos tortoise.  These are extinctions from thousands of years ago, by humans armed with not much more than bits of sticks.  Yuval Noah Harari concludes that, "We have the dubious distinction of being the deadliest species in the annals of biology." *  I found that profoundly dispiriting.

It's not hard to come to the conclusion that this planet would be much better off without us.

We would not, of course, be the first people to come to that conclusion.  The idea that there is something inherently wrong with our relationship to the earth comes up several times in the Bible, from the creation story to the prophets to Paul's letters.  But there's also a hope that it can be put right.

Romans 8 gives us Paul's take on this hope.  If we really are part of creation, he argues, then it is being redeemed along with us.  We are suffering and waiting to know God's glory fully; creation, too, is suffering and waiting for God's glory.  Our only hope for creation is the same hope that we have for ourselves - that through Jesus, we can escape futility and death and be reborn to a new life.

Image credit: Pixabay

No, I don't know how or why or what or when, either.  I don't even know if it's really going to happen or if it's a story we tell ourselves to make us feel better.  But I do know that the heart of being a Christian is trusting in Jesus.  When the theology gets too much and the world is crashing down around us: Look to Jesus.

Believe it or not, that's what the next study is about.

*Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari, Vintage 2011, p82.


Introduction: Compostable Christians
Study 1: The Importance of Creation
Study 2: Groaning Inwardly
Study 3: Do Not Fear!
Study 4: Live in the Light