Green Tau: issue 58

30th November 2022

Who benefits from fossil fuel investment? 

The big oil companies are expanding their exploitation of gas and oil reserves in response to the short falls in supply from Russia. The rapid rise in gas prices is prompting some African nations to consider developing the gas reserves under their land. To  explore and develop these reserves investment is needed and, it seems, is  readily available from western investors. 

In some ways it is not illogical. If you are a company whose raison d’être is finding, extracting and selling oil, that if you hear of new oil deposits, you go after them. Ditto if you are an investment company that has always invested in oil because it has always earns large dividends, then that is what you keep on doing. People and companies are wary of change, or perhaps become so immersed in the comfort of where they are, that they don’t look outside their own silo to be aware that change is already happening. This can be short sighted. Vis a vis oil, there are two black clouds on the horizon. Peak oil – that point in. Time when demand for oil will start to drop and co to use to drop. Many commentators suggest that we have already passed peak oil back in 2019. The decline in oil use arises when cars switch from petrol to electrical power (something that is happening aster than expected), as more plastics are made from recycled plastic rather than virgin oil, as users of oil become more efficient in their use of an expensive raw material,  and as users find renewable energy is cheaper. The second dark cloud is the climate crisis. As concern about the crisis takes root more people, companies and countries are going to be cutting back on their use of oil in an attempt to limit global temperature rises. If such moves are not successful then the world will experience rising sea levels, widespread drought, extremes of weather and widespread loss of life and incomes. And this of itself will severely reduce demand for oil. Either way it seems that long term the future for the oil industry is not good – but for in the short term their dominance of the global economic systems shields them. This has been highlighted by the war in Ukraine.  So the oil industry continues to be heavily subsidised by governments. “Since the Paris Agreement, the government has provided £13.6 billion in subsidies to the UK oil and gas industry. From 2016 to 2020 companies received £9.9 billion in tax relief for new exploration and production, including £15 million of direct grants for exploration, and £3.7 billion in payments towards decommissioning costs.” https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/energy/paid-pollute-fossil-fuel-subsidies-uk-what-you-need-know

So we are seeing large numbers of oil companies and oil investors focusing on exploring and  extracting oil and gas from the African continent. Despite the long term risks of declining demand, these companies seem convinced that there is money to be made. The idea of making rich profits from oil is certainly seen as attractive by some governments in Africa – oil would seem to offer rewards in licence fees and taxes. But who will benefit? Possibly governments, big businesses, banks and the like. Probably not the ordinary person in the street, the small scale farm or business, and definitely not the rich biodiverse  natural environment. 

Given the high price of oil, the availability of more oil will more likely benefit the big users of oil in the western world, not the person on the street in Luganda or Accra or Windhoek, not the small farm and the rural villager, nor the small businesses. What they need is cheap and accessible electricity , electricity that can be produced locally without reliance on an expensive national grid, electricity that comes from local wind turbines and solar panels? What they need is a move away from polluting vehicles and power plants. What they don’t need is the pollution and disturbance caused by drilling for oil,  building pipeline and running oil refineries. 

What the nations of Africa do need is investment in renewable energy. Ideally not in large projects such as hydro electric dams but in multiple smaller scale projects that will connect to and supply local towns and communities. 

“The potential for wind and solar is 400 times larger than Africa’s total fossil fuel reserves and it comes pollution-free and creates more jobs, but there is finance gap…That is why there is so much attention at this COP to changing the global capital allocation system,” Mr Gore

What the nations of Africa need is protection for their remaining areas of natural habitat – rain forests, wetlands and savannahs. Again this is an area in need of large scale investment that will protect habitats and provide sustainable incomes for local people. 

 “The area of land allocated to oil and gas activity in Africa is set to quadruple, threatening critical forests that help combat climate change, according to a new report by two environmental groups. Rainforest Foundation UK and Sacramento, California-based Earth InSight used mapping technology to show that gas and oil blocks overlap with about 30% of the continent’s dense tropical forests and more than a third of the Congo Basin, the world’s second-largest rainforest after the Amazon. The Democratic Republic of Congo, which accounts for about 60% of the basin, launched a bidding round  in July for 30 oil and gas permits, several of which overlap with the basin. Congo, one of the world’s poorest countries, has defended its right to explore for oil and develop its economy.” KBloomberg UK 

Can the big fossil fuel companies reinvent themselves? Can they recalibrate their raison d’être as energy companies?  Can they become suppliers of renewable energy technology that can enable communities to control their own energy sources? Can they create new business models that can invest the money from our banks, pensions funds and insurers, to protect and enhance the natural environment? 

Third Sunday before Advent

6th November 2022

Reflection (readings below)

Job has been sorely afflicted and his friends bring him little comfort. Job is sure that what he is suffering is not because he has sinned. His suffering is, he feels, undeserved yet real.  His friends fail to hear what he is saying  and continue to tell him to simply repent and all will be well.

Despite the hardships and trauma, Job is confident of two things – so confident that if he could he would write them in lead with an iron pen! He is certain that God is ultimately in charge of his life  and, that God will redeem him.  (It is useful to note that redemption – salvation – does not of itself preclude suffering in our lives.)

The Psalmist expresses similar feelings, a conviction that he will be shown loving mercy by God and that his life will have a purpose. The Psalmist confidence comes from his (or her) relationship with God, through prayer and through following God’s law.

Both the passage from Job and the passage from the letter to the Thessalonians envisages an end time when God’s salvation will be made manifest. The understanding of both the resurrection of the dead and of a day of judgement – often linked to the creation of a new world – was a growing belief in Judaism in the era following the return from exile in Babylon, and then in Christianity. It wasn’t a homogeneous belief and, as we see in today’s gospel, there were powerful groups who did not belief in resurrection (and therefore not in an end judgement day either). Scepticism and uncertainty continued amongst Christians too, who were uncertain how or what resurrection and judgement would look like. Early on many Christians thought that Jesus’s return in judgement would happen during their life time and that they would pass straight from this life to the next as enjoyed by the risen Jesus. As time passed, and as those of their communities died without experiencing a resurrection visible to their companions, people were reviewing what they believed, trying to work out a better understanding of judgement and resurrection. So it is that the writer of the letter tries to reassure the congregation in Thessalonica. They are reminded that they are loved by God, that they are – already – the first fruits of salvation, and that they have been sanctified – sealed – by the Holy Spirit and are a living demonstration of the glory of Christ Jesus. 

In our current era, many people suffer for no good reason other than that they are victims of a climate crisis that is not of their making. Many others are fraught with anxiety and uncertainty about what the climate crisis portends, how it may affect them and how they should be responding. Some feel the need to take radical action, others to shy away completely from the thought of what might lie ahead. The message from Job would be to stay engaged with God – to pray, to argue, to remain faithful. The message from the Thessalonians would be to sift the stories we hear so as to discern what is truthful, and to continue as committed followers of Christ, remembering that we have Jesus as our guide and exemplar, and the Spirit as our staying power and that both the ‘Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loves us, …. [will] comfort our hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.’

Today’s gospel reading shows Jesus caught up in just such a dispute between those who believed in the resurrection and those who did not. It is one of a series of debates in the temple precincts where those who oppose Jesus are trying to pick holes in his teaching. Jesus’s answer is succinct: ‘God is the God not of the dead but of the living; for to him all … are alive’. What we humans understand as death is not as God understands it. In each of the gospels the writers record for us the good news that Jesus brought. The good news that showed us how we should live in relation to one another and in relation to God. The good news of Jesus is radical. It challenges our conventional ideas. It challenges the institutionalised ideas of our social and business worlds. It challenges our priorities. It calls for an active and prayerful response.

In the face of the climate crisis and the urgent need for radical justice, the gospel is a timely challenge to us to review our lives and reapply to them the teachings of Jesus. In this the Kingdom season, the call is to work with Jesus in establishing the kingdom of God here on earth. 

Job 19:23-27a

Job said,

“O that my words were written down!
O that they were inscribed in a book!

O that with an iron pen and with lead
they were engraved on a rock forever!

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;

and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,

whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”

The Psalm

1 Hear my plea of innocence, O Lord;
give heed to my cry; *
listen to my prayer, which does not come from lying lips.

2 Let my vindication come forth from your presence; *
let your eyes be fixed on justice.

3 Weigh my heart, summon me by night, *
melt me down; you will find no impurity in me.

4 I give no offence with my mouth as others do; *
I have heeded the words of your lips.

5 My footsteps hold fast to the ways of your law; *
in your paths my feet shall not stumble.

6 I call upon you, O God, for you will answer me; *
incline your ear to me and hear my words.

7 Show me your marvellous loving-kindness, *
O Saviour of those who take refuge at your right hand
from those who rise up against them.

8 Keep me as the apple of your eye; *
hide me under the shadow of your wings,

9 From the wicked who assault me, *
from my deadly enemies who surround me.

2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17

As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God. Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you?

But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.

Luke 20:27-38

Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”

Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”

Prayers for creation 

14th October 2022

Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and not we are ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Psalm 100:3

You Lord, are the source of all good things: 

We praise you.

You call us to tend and care for your creation: 

May we strive to do your will.

You have made us as brothers and sisters with all that lives: 

May we live together in peace.

A reading: Deuteronomy 11: 11-17 

But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. It is a land the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end. So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today—to love the Lord your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul—  then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and olive oil.  I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied. Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. Then the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and he will shut up the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the Lord is giving you. 

We do not presume to walk on this earth,

O merciful Lord,
trusting in our own righteousness,
but in your manifold and great mercies.
We are not worthy so much
as to gather up the leftover grains 

nor glean the fruits fallen from your trees –
But you are the same Lord,
whose property is always to have mercy:
Grant us therefore, gracious Lord,
so to live where you plant us, 

that we may work in harmony with nature 

and  share your rich harvest with all. 

Amen 

Thank you God for trees and fruit, herbs and grasses

Forgive us when through greed and thoughtlessness, 

we have cut down forests and burnt the scrub, 

when we have prioritised monoculture and marginalised diversity, 

when we have drained rivers and aquifers 

favouring cash crops over native plants. 

Remake our hearts and minds

and so restore our way of living.

Thank you God for birds of the air, 

the creatures of the land and the fish of the sea.

Forgive us when through greed and thoughtlessness, 

we have promoted our own livestock and made refugees of  the native wildlife, 

when we enlarged  our own living space and made other creatures homeless.

Remake our hearts and minds

and so restore our way of living.

Thank you God for soil and water and the fresh air we breathe. 

Forgive us when through greed and thoughtlessness 

we take from the soil but do not give back, 

when we pollute the waters with waste we do not want, 

when we fill the air with an excess of greenhouse gases.

Remake our hearts and minds

and so restore our way of living.

Thank you God for our brothers and sisters, our kith and kin

Forgive us when through greed and thoughtlessness 

we rob them of their livelihoods, 

when we divert their wealth into our pockets, 

when we ignore their pleas for help.

Remake our hearts and minds

and so restore our way of living.

Lord God, as you made us in your image, that we might live with you

and, as your Son took on our form that he might live among us, 

you have shown us how to live.

Remake our hearts and minds

and so restore our way of living.

Amen.

Counting on … day 322 

28th September 2022

The Climate Coalition is running a project called Letters to Tomorrow:-

“Write a letter to a loved one in the future to call for political action on climate change now.

Because the future of our planet isn’t written yet. The climate crisis is affecting our lives already, and it’s only going to get worse for the next generation unless we take action now to get it under control – because the years will tick away before we know it.” 

Here’s the link https://www.letterstotomorrow.com/

And here’s my letter

The Green Tau: issue 53

23rd September 2022

If we all went vegan what would happen to all the cows? 

This seems to be a frequent concern amongst those who are not vegan. If people didn’t eat meat or drink milk, would cows become extinct? 

The question is one of genuine concern but raises some other questions in response. For example what life does a cow have? Dairy cows will commence their milking life aged 2 when their first calf will be removed from her care within hours of birth.  She will then give birth once year, being milked for ten months producing quantities of milk (on average 8000 litres) greatly in excess of what a calf would consume. After 2.5 -4 years, when her milking yields drop, she will be slaughtered. The usual life expectancy of a cow is 20 years. Of her offspring, males calves will have a limited life to be slaughtered as veal at 5 – 7 months. Of her female calves most will follow in this mother’s footsteps unless they are deformed or ill, in which case they too will be slaughtered. 

Very few farmed cattle enjoy a full life. By contrast cattle kept on re-wilded land, although smaller in number, live a much more natural life. In the Lake District re-wilding projects are in place at Haweswater, Ennerdale and the Lowther Estate, whilst in Sussex there is the now famous Knepp Estate. According to Rewilding Britain 112,166 hectares of land are now part of a re-wilding project. 

So no, cows would not become extinct but would be kept in much smaller numbers – just as rare breeds of many farm animals are being conserved. 

In 2020 there were 9.36 million head of cattle in the UK. It was not always so! Originally there were only the early forebears of cattle, the aurochs. Overtime cattle were domesticated and as the human population of the UK grew so did the number of cattle. Selective breeding improved and diversified the      cattle with some favoured for milk production and others for meat. As the human and domestic animal populations increased, so the amount of uncultivated land and wildlife decreased: the auroch was hunted to extinction in the UK about 3000 years ago; the brown bear became extinct in the 6th century whilst the wolf hung on until the 17th century. What is true for the UK is also true world wide. Whilst once humans and domesticated animals were once nonexistent, they now comprise 36% and 60% of the biomass of all mammals, leaving just 4% as wild animals (biomass measures the quantity of a species by its mass rather than its numerical quantity).

Rather than it being a question of ‘what would happen to all the cows?’ perhaps the question should be ‘what has happened to all the wild animals?’ The State of Nature Report of 2019noted that since the 1970s, 41% of UK wildlife has declined, and that 26% of the UK’s mammals are at risk of becoming extinct. Re-wilding more of our land would help reverse this decline and allow for the reintroduction of lost species such as the lynx and the stork.

Globally 77% of agricultural land is used to feed livestock, including both grazing land and the land used to grow animal feed. In the UK 40% of the land (9.74 million hectares) comprisespermanent grazing, 6%  temporary grazing (1 – 5 years) and 5%  rough grazing. Only 20% of the land is used for arable crops. Even so home grown animal feed is supplemented by imports – somewhere in the region of 50%.

Globally the 77% of land used for grazing and feeding farm animals, produces only 18% of the world’s food calories. At the same time this major land use contributes more than half of the carbon footprint of our global food production. If everyone globally were to eat the same amount of meat as the average British person (approx 85g per day), then the amount of farm land needed would have to increase – putting even more pressure on natural habitats and wildlife. And if everyone were to eat as much meat as the average American, we would run out of land.

Reducing our consumption of meat and dairy products would release more arable land for growing more sustainably a great variety of plant-based proteins with the potential to improve the diets and health of billions of people world wide (subject to a radical improvement of trade and wealth distribution systems). Research the by the UN suggests that with fewer cases of lower coronary heart disease, strokes, type 2 diabetes and some cancers, a global vegan diet would also result in 8.1 million fewer deaths per year worldwide.

Britons have in fact already reduced their meat consumption by 17% over the last decade. The Government’s Food Strategy has the target of reducing that by 30% by 2030. This target has been set  in recognition of the adverse affect meat production has on both climate change and the environment, as well as the link between the consumption of red and processed meat the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.

Looking to the future, there will be fewer cows – but hopefully they will be enjoying a happier life – and instead more land used to restore greater biodiversity. 

Further reading 

Proper 19

11th September 2022

Reflection 

The Church world wide is currently marking Creation-tide, and this first reading from Jeremiah could not be more pertinent. It sounds like prophecy for us today warning us of the impending climate crisis and decrying our foolishness in not taking action to ch age the way we behave.

Today’s gospel has two very familiar stories, that of The Lost Sheep and of The Lost Coin. (It was lucky that the woman chose to clean her house with a broom and not a vacuum cleaner!)

In the parables, both protagonists  make a concerted effort to find what they have lost and don’t give up until they are successful. Whilst the parables are told in response to criticism that Jesus eats with sinners, there is no suggestion that the lost sheep or the lost coin are in any way different from the other of their ilk. This perhaps reminds us that what ever we think of ourselves, we are all at heart the same, we are all sinners. God wants to save us all. God wants everything and everyone to be included in the Kingdom. If this is God’s commitment, then what is our reciprocal commitment to the everyone and everything of this earth? 

Each week we assert our belief that God is the creator of earth as well as heaven, yet humanity is weekly destroying what God has made. So far the world has seen five mass extinctions in which a high proportion of the earth’s biodiversity has been wiped out. The last such occurred 65.5 million years ago in which the dinosaurs became extinct. Scientists now reckon that we are on track for a 6th mass extinction which unlike the others, will be manmade. Currently 1 million species are facing extinction because of human activity. 

1 in 3 species of trees are facing extinction, including our native ash tree. According to a report by Kew Gardens in 2020,  two fifths of all plants face extinction (up on one in five in 2016). Researchers fear that we may be losing plant species more quickly than science can find, name and study them. Here in the UK one in ten wildlife species are facing extinction, including Scottish wild cats, pine martens, sky larks, natterjack toads and numerous moths, butterflies and beetles. 

Yet it doesn’t have to be this way. There are ongoing projects that show that conservation and reintroduction projects can help restore vulnerable populations. Creating wildlife corridors and joining together existing protected sites does boost biodiversity. Farming less intensively and with consideration for wildlife does help. Rewilding can amazing lead to the re-emerging of forgotten or lost ecosystems. The need for protection and conservation doesn’t just include land but the oceans too. Currently negotiations are underway – although they are struggling – to create a treaty that would protect 30% of the oceans and their biomass by 2030. Later this year there will be two more  COPs – global conferences, one focussed on containing the climate crisis, and one focusing on biodiversity. 

God’s concern is for everything and everyone, and our concern should be likewise. How are we responding to the plight of people in Pakistan whose homes and livelihoods have been washed away? How do respond to the plight of people likewise affected in Uganda, South Sudan, Senegal and Sierra Leone where exceptionally heavy seasonal rain has caused flooding? How do we respond to the plight of millions faced with hunger and starvation as the Horn of Africa enters its fifth year of drought? How do we respond to the pleas for assistance from small island states in the Pacific where rising sea levels are a major threat for where the highest land is only 2m above sea level?

How can we as Christians stand by and let these things happen unremarked upon and with no intervention? Charities and NGOs do provide some support and Christian Aid is currently launching a new drive to tackle climate injustice. Governments can – and should – be making a difference but can be slow and lacking in generosity. Many Christians are making a difference in their local areas, supporting work with food banks, supporting people faced with homelessness, and this winter we may see help being provided to create warm spaces. 

I think the message of Jesus’s parable is that whatever efforts we do make to go safeguard and support those at risk, those who are vulnerable and those who are lost, we need to do so with persistence. We need to be able to carry on protecting biodiversity, tackling climate change and reducing our carbon footprint, giving generously to those in need, lobbying governments to live up to expectation, volunteering  or however it is we pursue ways of bringing God’s rule into play here on earth. But equally, as in the parable, we need to celebrate each success we achieve and invite others to share in that celebrating. We are in this together, both us and God and all the heavenly angels!

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28

At that time it will be said to this people and to Jerusalem: A hot wind comes from me out of the bare heights in the desert toward my poor people, not to winnow or cleanse– a wind too strong for that. Now it is I who speak in judgment against them.

“For my people are foolish,
they do not know me;

they are stupid children,
they have no understanding.

They are skilled in doing evil,
but do not know how to do good.”

I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void;
and to the heavens, and they had no light.

I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking,
and all the hills moved to and fro.

I looked, and lo, there was no one at all,
and all the birds of the air had fled.

I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert,
and all its cities were laid in ruins
before the Lord, before his fierce anger.

For thus says the Lord: The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end.

Because of this the earth shall mourn,
and the heavens above grow black;

for I have spoken, I have purposed;
I have not relented nor will I turn back.

Psalm 14

1 The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” *
All are corrupt and commit abominable acts;
there is none who does any good.

2 The Lord looks down from heaven upon us all, *
to see if there is any who is wise,
if there is one who seeks after God.

3 Every one has proved faithless;
all alike have turned bad; *
there is none who does good; no, not one.

4 Have they no knowledge, all those evildoers *
who eat up my people like bread
and do not call upon the Lord?

5 See how they tremble with fear, *
because God is in the company of the righteous.

6 Their aim is to confound the plans of the afflicted, *
but the Lord is their refuge.

7 Oh, that Israel’s deliverance would come out of Zion! *
when the Lord restores the fortunes of his people,
Jacob will rejoice and Israel be glad.

1 Timothy 1:12-17

I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners– of whom I am the foremost. But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen.

Luke 15:1-10

All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, `Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, `Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Proper 18

4th September 2022

Reflection (readings below)

Today’s reading from Jeremiah tells us that God is a God who takes an active and ongoing interest in what has been created. There is a similar  feel to the story in Isaiah of the vineyard which God tends and protects, but when it fails to produce the right fruits, God tears downs it protective hoarding and allows wild animals in. Creation is not a watch which the maker has made and wound up, leaving it to tick without deviation ever after (an analogy put forward by William Paley in the 1800s). Rather creation is always in the process of change and adaptation – and that includes humanity too. Sadly at the moment humanity is adding to this process of change at a faster rate than the rest of creation can accommodate, leading to some dire consequences. 

The reading from Jeremiah might be read as an assertion that God arranges for bad things to happen as a way of promoting repentance and a change of heart in humanity.  That bad things do and are happening I agree; that they are a consequence arising from bad actions by humans I also agree – although it is seldom the same group of humans who both suffer and cause the suffering.   What I don’t believe is that God deliberately wills bad things to happen.  In this particular parable from Jeremiah I find hope, it says that God notices when things are going badly with the clay, and by dint of reshaping the situation, produces something good in its place. 

Paul’s letter to Philemon is also about reshaping the situation. Onesimus was the one-time slave of Philemon. For some reason, Onesimus has run away which would entitle Philemon to punish him severely. Paul however has found Onesimus to be an excellent companion and wants to retain him as such. But at the same time Paul wants this reshaping of the situation – this bringing good out of bad  – to come from Philemon – ie that Philemon release Onesimus from slavery and allow him to be Paul rather than Philemon’s helper. Earlier in the letter Paul has written of ‘all the good that we may do for Christ’ and here is something that both Paul and Philemon and Onesimus too, can do in the service of Christ. Let your motivation, says Paul to Philemon, be not duty but love!

The gospel passage from Luke talks of hate in a way which is difficult to understand. Is Jesus really asking us to hate those around us? In the passage Jesus goes onto talk about working out one’s commitment: there is no point starting to build a tower if you can’t afford to finish it, or waging a war if you have no means of seeing it through to the end. By the same token, Jesus is asking can we be his disciples with less than complete commitment? And for commitment read commitment that comes not from duty but from love.  

The period from 1st September to 4th October is recognised as Creation-tide and this year’s strap line   is ‘Listen to the voice  of creation”. If we were to listen to the voice of creation right now what would we hear? Anguish and pain, fear and desperation, from all those parts affected by wild fires and heat waves, by drought, by floods and storms, by starvation and homelessness. This year more than ever before, we are hearing and seeing the devastating affects of climate change. What might once have seemed like a future risk is now very clearly a present and dangerous reality. The need for change, the need to reshape the way we live, the way we farm the land and  the food we eat, the way we travel, the ways in which we heat our homes and generate energy, the ways we work with rather than against nature, the ways in which we support one another, is now so very clear. But do we have the commitment to go all the way? To make all the changes that are needed? Do we have power to act out of love and not just duty? To go that bit further, to give that bit more? To give up all that we possess to do ‘all the good we may for Christ’?

Jeremiah 18:1-11

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.

Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it. Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the Lord: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.

Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17

1 Lord, you have searched me out and known me; *
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.

2 You trace my journeys and my resting-places *
and are acquainted with all my ways.

3 Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, *
but you, O Lord, know it altogether.

4 You press upon me behind and before *
and lay your hand upon me.

5 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; *
it is so high that I cannot attain to it.

12 For you yourself created my inmost parts; *
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

13 I will thank you because I am marvellously made; *
your works are wonderful, and I know it well.

14 My body was not hidden from you, *
while I was being made in secret
and woven in the depths of the earth.

15 Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb;
all of them were written in your book; *
they were fashioned day by day,
when as yet there was none of them.

16 How deep I find your thoughts, O God! *
how great is the sum of them!

17 If I were to count them, they would be more in number than the sand; *
to count them all, my life span would need to be like yours.

Philemon 1-21

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus. I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ. I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.

For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love– and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother– especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.

Luke 14:25-33

Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, `This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

Counting on … day 287

23rd August 2022 

This summer is heat waves, drought and impending fuel crisis have highlighted our country’s  unpreparedness for the effects of climate change that we are already experiencing, let alone the ones that are to come. Much of the responsibility lies with our government and its influence over big business. To this end Greenpeace has set up a petition asking for action from the UK government: 

“You must do more to prevent climate change and protect us from the damaging impacts of extreme weather:
– Deliver a proper plan to make our buildings and infrastructure more resilient to extreme weather
– Improve national water storage to prevent future shortages
– Force water companies to reduce leaks and increase the efficiency of household and business water usage ”

If you would like to sign this go to – https://action.greenpeace.org.uk/uk-extreme-weather-climate-emergency-drought-floods?source=EM&subsource=ECCLREPEEM05MY&utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=UK+Extreme+Weather+Aug+2022+PE+20220812&utm_term=Full+List

Counting on …day 286

22nd August 2022

The biggest source of carbon dioxide that is accelerating the climate crisis are fossil fuels. The International Energy Agency has calculated that if we are to keep the rise in global temperatures within a safe threshold, we cannot open up or expand anymore fossil fuel sites. Instead we need to be replacing fossil fuel energy with renewable energy. It is against this background that so many people are horrified that the UK Government is allowing new gas fields to be developed in the North Sea – specifically the Jackdaw field. This week you can join the concerted campaign to stop this happening.

Sign the petition – https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/tell-the-uk-government-to-stop-the-jackdaw-gas-field/?link_id=3&can_id=e902af66de593980c250d076f315d318&source=email-uk-announces-new-oil-gas-drilling&email_referrer=&email_subject=its-time-to-stopjackdaw

And/ or email your MP. 

Laudate Si: discussion notes 2

Chapter 3 of Laudate Si is titled “The Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis”. If we focus initially on the climate crisis, this is being caused by an ongoing increase in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. 

1. Looking at the diagram below, what do you think has been and/or is the cause of this rise on CO2? 

Prior to the industrial revolution, the energy to power machinery or equipment came from wind or water, human or animal power – oxen pulled ploughs and carts; wind or water ground flour and other such necessities; horses or ‘shanks’s pony’ moved people and messages; pedal power worked lathes and spindles; hand power cut timber, wove cloth or created portraits. Wood provided fuel for heat and cooking. When wood is burnt, it releases carbon dioxide in proportion to the amount of carbon that has been formed in the tree as it grew. Over a relatively short time scale the absorption of carbon dioxide by the tree and its release through burning, are evened out. This is not the case with the burning of fossil fuels.

Coal, oil  and gas are all forms of carbon that were living on earth millions of years ago as plants and animals. When they died and decayed the carbon content of those living beings was compressed in layers below the surface of the soil or the surface of the oceans. There it became deposits of coal, oil and gas: concentrations of carbon locked away. When these fossil fuels are burnt, the carbon dioxide absorbed into the earth over thousands of years, is realised rapidly within a whole different time frame.

2. The Industrial Revolution began with the use of coal to create steam to power machines in factories, in mines and on railway tracks. Continuing improvement and refinement gave rise to a proliferation of products that could be consumed, of labour-saving devises, of large scale farming, improvements in health, faster and cheaper communications …

As well as creating all this, did the industrial Revolution also create new markets? Did the industrialists need to stimulate demand for the products that they could manufacture with increasing speed and in increasing quantity? Who knew that they needed fish knives until they were marketed to the up and coming middle classes?

Can we say with any certainty that the Industrial Revolution was either good or bad? Might we vary our judgement if we were to consider who has benefited and who has lost out?

3. Over time, steam engines became more efficient and were the in their time replaced by petrol and Diesel engines, and electric motors. Continuing improvement in both purpose and efficiency are still ongoing. Telephones that replaced the telegraph, have now been replaced by the mobile phone – initially the size of a large brick, they now slip into a back pocket and yet have the capacity to make and show films, to interrogate the internet, send messages, programme home heating programmes, monitor hearts rates and so on. 

Why might it be that despite all these improvements in design and efficiency, our demand for energy is still increasing? And that despite the increase in nuclear and renewable energy, our use of fossil fuels and the consequent production of polluting CO2 does not seem to abate?

5. What causing us to consume more and more? Because it is more efficient, is it better? Because it advances technology, is it better?  Because it makes a bigger profit, is it better? Who actually gains?

Have we become trapped in a viscous circle?

Pope Francis begins by quoting from Benedict XVI “… we have “a sort of ‘super-development’ of a wasteful and consumerist kind which forms an unacceptable  contrast with the ongoing situations of dehumanising deprivation” and goes in to write “ while we are all too slow in developing We fail to see the deepest roots of our present failures, which have to do with direction, goals, meaning and social implications of technological and economic growth.” (Laudate Si section 119) He then goes on to write (section 111) “Ecological culture cannot be reduced to a series of urgent and partial response to the immediate problems of pollution, environmental decay and the depletion of natural resources. There needs to be a distinctive way of looking at things, a way of thinking, policies, an educational programme, a lifestyle and a spirituality which together generate resistance to the assault of the technocrat paradigm. Otherwise, even the best ecological initiatives can find themselves caught up in the same globalised logic. To seek only a technical remedy to each environmental problem which comes up is to separate what in reality is interconnected and to mask the true and deepest problems of the global system.”

What might this ‘distinctive way’ look like? Here are some suggestions picked out from sections 112 – 122.

i. Be non consumerist, cooperative 

ii. Enable people to live with more dignity and less suffering

iii. Recover a sense of meaning and depth to life, encouraging wonder about the purpose and meaning of life

iv. Offer the possibility of a happy future

v. Be a cultural revolution 

vi. Recognise the intrinsic dignity and beauty of the world 

vii. Understand humanity’s true in the world and have a humble awareness of our limits, 

viii. Acknowledge the worth of our fellow humans and not to take advantage of them

ix. Accept our responsibility to care for  creation  – our particular gifts give us an equally particular responsibility

x. Acknowledge the connection between our relationship with God and our relationship with nature

6. How might these suggestions change the way we look at the world. How might they change the way we do things?

7.  Can the Christian faith offer this “distinctive way”?

Who could propose and promote it? And how? 

8. Who would listen? Would it ‘reach the ears’ of governments, businesses (their board and shareholders), banks and investors, social commentators? And if not, why not?

Below is a sustainability diagram which may be of interest.

A prayer for our earth

All powerful God,

you are present in the universe

and in the smallest of your creatures.

You embrace with your tenderness all that exists. Pour out upon us the power of your love,

that we may protect life and beauty.

Fill us with your peace, that we may live

as brothers and sisters, harming no one.

O God of the poor,

help us to rescue the abandoned

and forgotten of this earth,

so precious in your eyes.

Bring healing to our lives,

that we may protect the world and not prey on it, that we may sow beauty,

not pollution and destruction.

Touch the hearts

of those who look only for gain

at the expense of the poor and the earth.

Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,

to be filled with awe and contemplation,

to recognise that we are profoundly united

with every creature

as we journey towards your infinite light.

We thank you for being with us each day. Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle,

for justice, love and peace.

Amen.

‘A prayer for our earth’ was published in Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’. It is for all who believe in God who is the all-powerful Creator.