Proper 20

18th September 2022

Reflection (readings below)

“For the hurt of the people I am hurt. I mourn and dismay has taken hold of me” says Jeremiah. It is a cry many would empathise with, especially when one looks around at all the suffering already happening and all that is on the horizon as the climate crisis and the fuel and economic crises continue to grow in scale – the former fed by the latter into an ever deepening spiral.

Climate grief is now a recognised phenomena. It encompasses grief for what has already been lost, what is currently being lost and the ongoing threat of further loss going on into the future. Such loss is not just the loss of physical landscapes, plants and animals. It is also the loss of people’s livelihoods and traditions. It is the loss of actual lives. And it is grief for the loss of the futures that our children and grandchildren might have had but, now, will not have. There is no closure for this sort of grief and no traditions to help us cope. Jeremiah would certainly empathise with where we are, our plight and our sense of helplessness. 

Where then do turn for consolation? If we cannot find closure,  can we find a way of adjusting to the new realities of life? Can we find new ways of supporting each other? Can we adopt new ways of living and new economic models that will avert the worst scenarios? 

We can take a cue from the Letter of Timothy, and pray – with prayers of intercession and prayers of thanksgiving for everyone, including, but not just for, leaders and those in power. And not just to pray but to remember that in Jesus we have a mediator, someone who can help us understand both our problems and the possible solutions. 

Today’s gospel passage is one of a group of the parables including the Prodigal Son, the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin. They all reference one who goes astray – sins – and point in each situation the possibility of finding a way back. They all also point to the importance of celebration when what was lost is found, when what was lost is restored. To this the parable of the Prodigal Son adds the importance of having generosity of heart and humility. 

In today’s parable we have a sacked manager – one who has certainly been accused of fraud – someone who has fallen short. He is unsure how he can cope with the change in circumstances this is forcing upon him. He thinks hard about the steps he can take to mitigate this. Where as before he was totally dependent on one person, his boss – from whom he gained his wealth – he is now going to be at the mercy of the many of his community. He asks himself with whom he needs to be on best terms – his ex boss or the community? Whose interests should he nourish to safeguard his own future?

Not unreasonably, he concludes that he has nothing to loose by no longer increasing the profits of  his boss and much to gain by improving the lives of everybody else. He chooses to serve – to love – his community rather than the sole interests of the rich man. And this is why he is subsequently commended for being shrewd. 

Jesus reminds us that we cannot seek to gain both wealth and God.  Are we in fact fraudulent stewards, given the way we have allowed the climate crisis to grow and escalate? Have we opted to exploit the environment for short term gain and convenience? Are we fraudulent stewards who have allowed – indeed enabled – the developed countries to continue to grow rich at the expense of less powerful nations? Have we pinned all our fortunes on the ongoing success of fossil fuels? How should we respond when that certainty of income and wellbeing that we have enjoyed is pulled from under our feet?

We certainly need to end our reliance on the singularity of fossil fuels. We need to be diversifying and finding simpler, less damaging ways of living. We need to be finding economic models that share risks and profits equitably. And I am sure we in the developed world need to be literally halving the debts of our comrades – the less powerful – around the world. (Later this month people of faith will be marking Loss and Damage Day which calls on the creation of an insurance pot funded by wealthy nations to support those at the sharp edge of climate change). 

And let’s do some rejoicing too when we find these new relationships, these new ways of living together with our fellow human beings and with nature.

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1

My joy is gone, grief is upon me,
my heart is sick.

Hark, the cry of my poor people
from far and wide in the land:

“Is the Lord not in Zion?
Is her King not in her?”

(“Why have they provoked me to anger with their images,
with their foreign idols?”)

“The harvest is past, the summer is ended,
and we are not saved.”

For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt,
I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.

Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?

Why then has the health of my poor people
not been restored?

O that my head were a spring of water,
and my eyes a fountain of tears,

so that I might weep day and night
for the slain of my poor people!

Psalm 79:1-9

1 O God, the heathen have come into your inheritance;
they have profaned your holy temple; *
they have made Jerusalem a heap of rubble.

2 They have given the bodies of your servants as food for the birds of the air, *
and the flesh of your faithful ones to the beasts of the field.

3 They have shed their blood like water on every side of Jerusalem, *
and there was no one to bury them.

4 We have become a reproach to our neighbours, *
an object of scorn and derision to those around us.

5 How long will you be angry, O Lord? *
will your fury blaze like fire for ever?

6 Pour out your wrath upon the heathen who have not known you *
and upon the kingdoms that have not called upon your Name.

7 For they have devoured Jacob *
and made his dwelling a ruin.

8 Remember not our past sins;
let your compassion be swift to meet us; *
for we have been brought very low.

9 Help us, O God our Saviour, for the glory of your Name; *
deliver us and forgive us our sins, for your Name’s sake.

1 Timothy 2:1-7

First of all, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For

there is one God;
there is also one mediator between God and humankind,

Christ Jesus, himself human,
who gave himself a ransom for all

— this was attested at the right time. For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

Luke 16:1-13

Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, `What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ Then the manager said to himself, `What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, `How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, `A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, `Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, `And how much do you owe?’ He replied, `A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, `Take your bill and make it eighty.’ And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Counting on …day 312 

18th September 2022

As we adapt to the reality of the climate crisis we may to pause catch our breath. Climate cafés can be a useful space for this. 

“What is a Climate Café? Perhaps you have recently begun to worry about what is happening to our climate and what this might mean for you, and for your family and friends? Or maybe you are an activist or professional in the climate world, used to feeling the pain of climate grief or anxiety and keeping it at bay by all the great work you do? A climate café is a simple, hospitable, empathetic space where anyone’s fears and uncertainties about our climate crisis can be safely expressed.  A space in which we would not talk about what we or others are doing or should be doing. We would just talk about climate change and how it is making us think and feel.”

The Green Tau: issue 51

7th September 2022

What is this about Climate Grief?

Sometimes I feel so emotionally charged up about the present and impending reality of the climate crisis that  I want to shout and scream. I want to run away. I want to lash out and throw things. But against whom would I shout my abuse and fury? Where would I run away to? Against what would I lash out and what would I throw?

I bottle it up inside. It screws my insides into knots and squeezes against my head like a metal vice. My words become trapped inside, choked back and unable to escape. I cannot voice how I feel. I retreat inwards, cutting myself off for anyone or anything that might give joy – for joy has no place here. How can you contemplate being happy when all is doomed? How can you have fun whilst across the world others are suffering? That is what climate grief feels like for me. 

It comes from the loss of biodiversity – the diminishing numbers of birds and butterflies, the lack of insects on car wind screen,  the death of trees. It comes the rampant spread of vast mono-cultured fields, satellite images of rainforest destruction, the inexorable spread of towns across the landscape. It comes from the rising summer temperatures and the devastating winter storms. It comes from the constant stream of airplanes overhead and the repeated jam of cars on the streets. It comes from seeing retreating glaciers and knowing the next generations will not see snowy alpine peaks. It comes from watching the news and seeing wild fires and droughts, heat waves and mud slides, storms and destructive rainfall. It comes from realising that heatwaves are going to be the norm in the UK and yet none of our buildings – our homes or schools or hospitals – are being adapted to reflect this. It comes from hearing of cuts to bus services when policies should be making public transport more widely and readily available. It comes from hearing of the ongoing investment in fossil fuels by companies claiming green credentials. It comes from hearing politicians saying we don’t want solar panels and wind farms marring the landscape. It comes from pictures of industrialised cattle farms and chicken factories, hearing of chickens whose lives are shorter than a school term. It comes from seeing people carrying on their lives, their acquisitive consumption,  their shopping, their travelling and house re-modelling as if nothing is amiss.  

I can’t control my grief and I can’t control what other people do. I feel disempowered and alone. 

Yet I am sure that other people are grieving too. That other people are feeling lost and helpless. And when I do chance to meet them, when we get to talk and share our concerns, we find comfort that we are ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’. We find reassurance that we are not alone in our thinking , that our thinking isn’t completely ‘off the wall’. We find encouragement that there are others taking action – some even putting their liberty and their careers at stake as they risk arrest and even imprisonment. 

Climate grief is not an issue that is going away. Nor is it a problem waiting to be ‘fixed’. Climate grief is an expression of the love that people have for the world around them. It is a knock on from caring for and being connected with the environment. But does it have to be debilitating and overwhelming?

No. Climate grief needs to be recognised, and those who feel it, validated. We need safe places where this grief can be expressed and we need to develop ways and means – new traditions and liturgies – so that people can more easily articulate and acknowledge their feelings. We need to use different creative mediums to enable a free flow of expression. We need to develop sympathetic listening ears that can absorb someone else’s grief and astute words to help them understand the emotions they are feeling. We need practical therapies so that people can sooth the physical pain caused by grief.

We cannot remove the loss. But we can help build up resilience. We cannot diminish the threat of impending future losses. But we can help develop support mechanisms and networks. We can find ways of adjusting the way we live to accommodate a new normal. We can develop new occasions for celebration to acknowledge what is still good. We need to find ways of expressing joy that do not diminish the reality of suffering. We need to develop activities and actions that are both  worthwhile and which genuinely do protect the God-given environment that we prize so highly. 

Reading list: