In the first of our Creationtide series of services Heston and Lydia led us in our worship and Paul shared with us his thoughts on our relationship with the environment.
Apologies for the problems with the sound for the first couple of minutes – we will get it right one day!
Here are notes of Paul’s talk:
One of the topics in a lot of recent research and books is that humans are fundamentally cooperative and decent rather than competitive and selfish. This was seen in communities at the beginning of the pandemic when all across the planet many people looked out for each other, checked up on each other, did shopping for the more vulnerable and changed their lifestyles to prevent the spread of the virus and to protect each other.
One of the other consequences of lockdown (and probably Brexit) was the shortages on the shelves in supermarkets and lack of workers in the fields and factories. We became more aware of where our “stuff” comes from and our dependence on each other and on our environment. Those of us who were furloughed or worked from home and were fortunate enough to have gardens or to live in the greener suburbs spent more time in our gardens or walking in a quieter world where we could hear and see more of our natural world.
On Trinity Sunday at the end of May Heston shared with us the idea of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – dancing together in unity. The Trinitarian relationship as a beautiful and creative dance.
As Heston was talking about the Trinity, I had this picture of the Trinitarian dance in my mind but also of God dancing in relationship with Her creation, dancing in relationship with Adam and Eve, and Adam and Eve dancing in relationship with all of creation.
At the beginning of Genesis there are two different accounts of creation, each written to convey a different message. In the second account God creates Man and then the animals and then Woman because they need to be in relationship with each other.
Our current dancing with each other and with the environment is like dancing with size 12 hobnailed boots on two left feet. Our ideas of domination, our colonial attitudes, our oppressive and extractive approach to each other and to nature is not beautiful but is ugly and destructive. Our disconnection with nature is violent, violent to nature and to ourselves. Our relationships are broken. We need to find healing for our relationships. We need to learn to dance again, to dance with the Trinity, to dance with nature and to dance with each other.
I’m going to tell you a little story now, and the first few facts you may find difficult to believe. About 50 years ago when I was a cute little boy – there you go, you don’t believe I am that old or that I was little or even cute! – Anyway, when I was about 10 years old, the house we lived in had a broken air brick – one of those bricks just above ground level with small holes in to ventilate under the – anyway, it was broken resulting in a larger hole through which a small bird could enter. A pair of coal tits, beautiful small birds with black heads and a white patch on the back of their neck, built their nest behind the airbrick. I spent a lot of time lying on my front a little distance from the air brick watching the parent birds flying back and forth, listening to the young respond when food was brought to them and then seeing the heads of the young pop out of the hole and eventually, they were gone – sadly I missed their departure. I see this as an episode that marked the start of my conscious connection with nature.
At 12 years old I had my first pair of binoculars and started to build my first road bike. In my mid-teens I was cycling to the local nature reserves, I was a member of the school Ornithologist Club and I was discovering the interconnectedness of nature. The fields over the back of our house were the home to Skylarks in the summer and they floated high above the fields singing their hearts and lungs out whilst we listened from our garden. In the autumn we had murmurations of starlings darkening the evening sky and the winter months brought flocks of lapwings and geese to the fields. Walking through the fields and woodlands nearby or cycling along the country roads I would see clouds of butterflies. In the summer the windscreen of the family car would be splattered with insects.
But over the last 50 years our size 12 hobnailed boots have continued to trample all over nature. Our domination of the environment, treating nature as a resource to be exploited for resources or as a dumping ground for our waste has led to huge declines in the populations of our fellow creatures and the destruction of their habitat.
And, for those who have eyes, this is just some of the signs of the damage that is being done. Prophetic ecologists and scientists have been warning for decades that our love relationship with fossil fuels is causing an even bigger crisis. Burning fossil fuels – millions of years’ worth of trees and sea creatures that then took hundreds of millions of years to form coal, oil and gas – burning so much of it in the space of a few hundred years has released carbon in the form of carbon dioxide, a gas that causes our planet to warm destabilising the natural cycles that have made our planet such a comfortable place to live. We have increased the levels of carbon dioxide from 350ppm a couple of hundred years ago to 420ppm and that is going to continue to increase as we continue to burn fossil fuels. At the same time, we are destroying the natural systems that have tried to keep the natural balance. We are destroying the rainforests of the Amazon, the kelp forests of the seas, the peat bogs that slowly accumulate and store carbon. Our farming methods are destroying the soils and releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere when they could be capturing and storing it. Our industrial way of life is on a path of self-destruction. Our relationship with fossil fuels continues whilst our relationship with nature is broken.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change. The objective of the IPCC is to provide governments at all levels with scientific information that they can use to develop climate policies. The United Nations brings almost every government together for an annual summit called the “Conference of Parties” or COP to discuss climate change and to try and agree on how they will tackle it together. The 26th Conference of Parties or COP26 is scheduled to be held in the city of Glasgow, Scotland between 1 and 12 November 2021, under the presidency of the United Kingdom in partnership with Italy. The UK (or is it England?) will be taking the lead and needs to be setting an example. Sadly, in my opinion, our government doesn’t seem to understand the nature of our crisis and think that they can use the methods that got us into this mess to get us out of it as well.
Over the next few weeks of Creation Season, we will be thinking a bit more about Climate Change and COP26
So back to relationships and dancing.
What does a right relationship with creation look like?
As a church our aim is to follow the way of Jesus. As a big part of that we have been learning how to love one another, how to have better relationships, how to relate to people who are different from us, people who are “other”, people who seem to be different from us, people who we discover are not “other” but are actually us – we are the same. And we’ve done this by sharing our lives, by sharing what we have, together, sharing both ways, giving and receiving, learning from each other and enriching each other’s lives.
But in our relationship with the world, we have been taking and not giving, we haven’t learnt much and we haven’t listened. As Paul Tillich says “The first duty of love is to listen”. So, can we listen, can we learn to see, can we give and not take all the time? Our relationship with God’s creation is so dysfunctional. We take without giving. We don’t listen or learn. Or if we do, we don’t change. If our relationship with the Earth was a marriage then we would desperately need to go to Relate for marriage guidance and counselling. What is more likely is that we would be locked up for abuse.
Just some quick examples of our ignorant abuse:
- toilet cleaner – I guess we all use it! But do we know the effect of the strong chemicals that we flush into our water systems? Do we know what damage was caused in its manufacture? And what about the animals that it is tested on – yes, some animal testing is involved by some toilet cleaner manufacturers. And if we do know, if we do learn, can we and do we do anything about it? (By the way, this month’s Ethical Consumer magazine investigates toilet cleaners!) The same thing applies to most of the things that we consume.
- Another example. The average carbon footprint of a UK citizen is about 10 tonnes of carbon dioxide gas per year (or if you take all greenhouse gas emissions about 13 tonnes per year). Most of us are unaware of where these emissions come from and how to most effectively reduce them. Over 20%, a fifth of our greenhouse gas emissions come from producing and supplying our food. And about one third of the food we produce is then just thrown away, often ending up on landfill sites where it rots down to produce even more greenhouse gases.
- Next Saturday is Rainbow Junktion’s 7th birthday. The cafe is much older than that but it has operated in its current form, as a cafe that rescues food that would otherwise go to waste, for 7 years. Feeding bellies and not bins! It has been estimated that if food waste was a country, it would be the third highest emitter of greenhouse gases after the US and China, (according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations). One third of greenhouse emissions globally come from agriculture, and 30% of the food we produce is wasted – about 1.8 billion tonnes of it a year. If, as a planet, we stopped wasting food altogether, we’d eliminate 8% of our total emissions. And if we changed the way we grew our food, for example using regenerative agriculture, we could reduce our emissions even further – possibly even absorb more carbon dioxide, we could reverse soil erosion and increase biodiversity.
This is just a couple examples of where our relationship with creation is abusive and destructive – and we may not even be aware of it.
So, I asked the question “What does a right relationship with creation look like?” I’ve not answered the question, I think it is a question we should be asking each other and discussing and working out together.
I would like to share a few things that as Christians we can do and since I am talking about Relationships they all start with R:
- Rejoice – Learn to dance with nature! Fall in love with nature. Recognise that we are part of nature and rejoice in its diversity. Rejoice in God’s Creation. Spend time outside looking for nature, sit under a tree, watch the birds, stare at the clouds, listen to the bees, grow some plants, read some nature books, watch Chris Packham or Michaela Strachan, Kate Humble or David Attenborough. Just be amazed at the complexity and beauty of our world
- Research – Find out more about Climate Change, the impact it is having on people around the world already eg Christian Aid’s “Counting the Cost 2020” report. Find out more about your personal carbon footprint. Find out about the ways we impact nature, what damage our ever-increasing consumption causes to the environment. Find ways of “living more lightly” – see https://lowcosthighprice.org/
- Repent – Repent means to turn around, to change direction. Let us find less destructive, or better still, regenerative ways of living on this planet. Let us learn to live in harmony.
- Respond – let us respond in prayer and in action
So, to improve our Relationship with Creation I am suggesting that we Rejoice, Research, Repent, Respond
In Romans 8 we read about a new relationship with God, a new relationship empowered by God’s Spirit, where we turn away from our destructive ways, to live in the freedom that comes from being children of God. And creation is described as groaning, waiting for when it “will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” A right relationship between creator and created. Just imagine the dancing to celebrate this relationship being put right!
And what gives me so much hope for this relationship? We read further on “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Love is at the heart of relationship and God’s love is shown to us in the dance of the Trinity, in the dance of creation, and in the Lord of the Dance – Jesus, who danced in the morning when the world was begun, who danced on the sabbath, who danced on that dark Friday, and leapt up high to dance that resurrection dance on Easter Sunday. We remind ourselves of and celebrate that love every Sunday in the sharing of bread and wine.
Let us open our eyes to the more beautiful world we know is possible if only we embrace each other and God’s creation and learn to dance and live in right relationship with one another.