Proper 7: 

19 June 2022

Reflection 

We may not believe in demonic forces nowadays but we are certainly aware that there are many  things that have an unhealthy level of control over our lives. Social media, diets, cars, pollution, throw away convenience, anxiety, fashion, alcohol, gambling, climate change, elitism, poverty, oil, tax evasion, futures markets, housing costs, racism, low wages, depression – the list goes on. For all our progress, life is still tough for many people. 

It was to such people, those who were finding life tough, those on the edge of society, the sick and the vulnerable, that Jesus brought his message of good news, of salvation. Here in today’s gospel we have just such an encounter. Jesus is able to break through the barriers that have prevented Legion from communicating with his fellow countrymen. He has been able to get to heart of Legion’s problem and together they removed the burden, the barrier of his illness. Jesus stays with him until others come who will continue the healing process, reintegrating Legion back into the community. Jesus leaves Legion with a task, a reason to carry on. 

The reading from Isaiah describes the frustrations of a prophet trying to speak to a ‘rebellious people’ – by which I think is meant people who rebel against God’s ways. The passage tells how these people are living their lives, with the traditions and routines of their daily life that keep or distract them from God, things that entrap them, snaring them in unholiness.  (The effects of these entrapments are probably not much different from those things blight our daily lives). Yet the prophet’s persistence – a persistence that comes as a gift or a power from God – reflects God’s ongoing concern and desire that the all humans should be encouraged and enabled to live according to God’s values, and that creation should be healed and humanity restored to its right mind. The last few lines add a measure of hope, that there will be found sufficient goodness in humankind to achieve God’s vision for the world. 

Who are our prophets today? Are they people like David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg, George Monbiot and Jack Munro? Are they groups like Extinction Rebellion? Groups like Amnesty, 38 Degrees, and  The Trussel Trust? Do we take time to listen to their messages, to measure and explore what is being said, to discern where God’s will may lie? Equally are we ready to hear God’s message, are we able set aside some of the barriers that trap us and weigh us down? Like Legion can we break free from our past and find renewal and healing?

Paul, writing to Galatians, remind us that for all of us our baptism represents a new beginning, a fresh start. In baptism we are all one – baptism is the ultimate In levelling up! What ever our past, where ever we have come from and however we have come – raised and bred as part of the establishment, or refugee fleeing a hostile environment, someone who has pulled themselves up by their boot straps or someone who has never managed to hold down a job – we are all equal as ‘children of God’. Like Legion, our restoration is shown in that we have all been clothed with Christ. And, like Legion, we are all commissioned to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ to our own communities.

As we look around the world – like the prophet Isaiah – we see the threats and obstacles that block the freedom of life: heat waves that are keeping one third of US citizens confined to their homes; 7.1 million people displaced by fighting in Ukraine; a third of people in Sudan facing starvation; 3.9 million children living in poverty in the UK; half the population of Chile living with water shortages. Are we sufficiently enraged as Christians, sufficiently enraged as were the prophets, sufficiently enraged as humans, to stand up and say this is not how God wants the world to be? How are we to bring Good News to our communities and to the world?

Isaiah 65:1-9

I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask,
to be found by those who did not seek me.

I said, “Here I am, here I am,”
to a nation that did not call on my name.

I held out my hands all day long to a rebellious people,

who walk in a way that is not good,
following their own devices;

a people who provoke me
to my face continually,

sacrificing in gardens
and offering incense on bricks;

who sit inside tombs,
and spend the night in secret places;

who eat swine’s flesh,
with broth of abominable things in their vessels;

who say, “Keep to yourself,
do not come near me, for I am too holy for you.”

These are a smoke in my nostrils,
a fire that burns all day long.

See, it is written before me:
I will not keep silent, but I will repay;

I will indeed repay into their laps
their iniquities and their ancestors’ iniquities together,

says the Lord;

because they offered incense on the mountains
and reviled me on the hills,

I will measure into their laps
full payment for their actions.

Thus says the Lord:

As the wine is found in the cluster,
and they say, “Do not destroy it,
for there is a blessing in it,”

so I will do for my servants’ sake,
and not destroy them all.

I will bring forth descendants from Jacob,
and from Judah inheritors of my mountains;

my chosen shall inherit it,
and my servants shall settle there.

Psalm 22:18-27

18 Be not far away, O Lord; *
you are my strength; hasten to help me.

19 Save me from the sword, *
my life from the power of the dog.

20 Save me from the lion’s mouth, *
my wretched body from the horns of wild bulls.

21 I will declare your Name to my brethren; *
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.

22 Praise the Lord, you that fear him; *
stand in awe of him, O offspring of Israel;
all you of Jacob’s line, give glory.

23 For he does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty;
neither does he hide his face from them; *
but when they cry to him he hears them.

24 My praise is of him in the great assembly; *
I will perform my vows in the presence of those who worship him.

25 The poor shall eat and be satisfied,
and those who seek the Lord shall praise him: *
“May your heart live for ever!”

26 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, *
and all the families of the nations shall bow before him.

27 For kingship belongs to the Lord; *
he rules over the nations.

Galatians 3:23-29

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Luke 8:26-39

Jesus and his disciples arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me” — for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.

Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

Green Tau: issue 28 

22nd December 2021

Sugar sweet?

Sugar cane is the source of about 80% of the sugar consumed across the world. It is a plantation crop that goes back centuries and has a history linked with exploitation and slavery. As a plantation crop it has been responsible for the deforestation of tropical landscapes and as demand for sugar continues to increase this is still on going – especially in Brazil where sugar cane is also grown to produce the fuel ethanol: ‘The Atlantic Forest, or Mata Atlântica in Portuguese, is found on the Atlantic coast of Brazil. It should be full of life, supporting thousands of species of plants and animals, many of which are found nowhere else. It’s different from the Amazon rainforest but equally important. Around 500 years ago it would have covered an area of more than 1.5 million square kilometres. Now, more than 90% of it is gone, cleared mostly for timber, pasture and sugar.’ (https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/sugar-a-killer-crop.html)

 Sugar cane occupies approximately 2.4 million hectare world wide. 70% of production is for domestic use (which for example would include the production of ethanol in Brazil) but for some countries the production of sugar for export constitutes a significant part of their national income eg Cuba and Belize. Volatile global prices makes for great uncertainty for local growers/ plantation workers who can do little to control their incomes. Whilst the premium paid through the Fair Trade scheme undoubtedly helps, the production of fair trade sugar – 528,000 tonnes – is a fraction of the 200 million tonnes of sugar  produced globally (2019). 

Sugar cane as a crop, aside from the issue of deforestation, has unwanted adverse affects on people and the environment.

  • it requires large amounts of water, often taking the water away from other crops and  natural vegetation 
  • It requires large amounts of pesticides and fertilisers which flow into the water system damaging other ecosystems 
  • Before harvesting, old leaves are burnt off to assist the harvesting process. This kills wildlife, important natural organisms and pollutes the air. As nutrients in the leaves are burnt rather than being returned to the soil, the fertility of the soil is reduced requiring additional fertilisers to be used
  • It is an annual crop requiring the land to be cleared each year and the exposed soil is then susceptible to loss during the rainy season and with not roots to absorb moister, flooding too increases.
  • It is a labour intensive crop where child labour still happens.

Alternative sugar crops are grown, of which the main one is sugar beet – accounting for about 20% of world production – which is grown mainly in Europe. It too can be reliant on pesticides and fertilisers: organic sugar beet is grown in Europe but not as yet in Britain. Other sugar crops include coconut palms and oil palms where the sap is harvested. 

There is a further downside to all sugars: sugar damages our health, causing major problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay. The WHO urges that sugar consumer should be reduced to between 5 and 10% of a person’s daily calorie intake. The NHS advises sugar consumption be limited to less than 30g per day: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/how-does-sugar-in-our-diet-affect-our-health/ Yet sugar consumption globally is still rising. The USA tops the charts with an average consumption of 126.4g per person per day. Britain comes in at number 7 with 93.2g per day (2019).

As well as being concerned about the damage sugar growing causes to the environment and it’s work force, should we be acting to reduce the demand for this commodity?

“Too often, divisions in civil society can be exploited by powerful commercial interests. ‘Don’t go too hard on health, as it will threaten jobs’ or ‘Don’t raise pollution standards, as they’ll be undercut by another country somewhere’ or ‘Don’t mention labour pay rates, or we’ll drop the preferred status.’ Or ‘Don’t stop sugar beet as it’ll affect tourism brought by geese feeding on sugar beet tops in winter’. Such horse-trading happens in realpolitik, of course, but we think now is the time to take the sugar debate back to ecological public health basics: land, labour, capital, health and culture…We see this future food world as one where less not more sugar is produced and consumed, and land use and labour are liberated from the folly of sugar production. This is hardly a vital product. It has been injected into culinary culture on a scale it does not deserve. Nor should a sugar reduction strategy be compensated for by a growth in use of artificial sweeteners which industry constantly seeks. Artificials, whether relatively ‘old’ such as aspartame or ‘new’ such as stevia, merely normalise the sweetening of diet as well as maintain the processing industries’ option to sweeten a product to sell it.”  https://foodresearch.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/8/2015/06/Does-Sugar-Pass-the-Environmental-and-Social-Test-23-june.pdf