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Welcome to my website. You will find all sorts here, from short stories to in-depth articles with reflections in between on a wide variety of topics. Welcome to my life…

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Seeds of life

On Monday, the UK parliament voted, with a large majority, to expand Heathrow airport to three runways. If this ever gets built, it will raise the UK’s aviation carbon emissions to 43m tonnes by 2030. On the same day, the UK Business Secretary announced that the Government would not support a tidal barrage scheme in Swansea Bay that could have generated enough electricity to power 150,000 homes. One month ago, the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly voted to reject its Church and Society Committee’s recommendation that the Kirk move towards divesting from fossil fuels.

All of these decisions, and many others I could list, are backed up by sensible-sounding arguments, and were taken according to good democratic process; yet they will have a seriously negative impact on the lives of vulnerable people, animals and plants through the climate change they promote. In Church and civil society alike, due process and good order tends to take the world ever further from that vision of peace and justice and life in its fullness that Jesus called the Kingdom of God.

In 1942, in the midst of the second world war, C.S. Lewis wrote these words in the preface to ‘The Screwtape Letters’ –

I live in the Managerial Age, in a world of “Admin.” The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid “dens of crime” that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices.

When Jesus spoke about the Kingdom of God, he used a number of different images. One was a mustard seed. In Mark 4.31-32 he talks about someone sowing a mustard seed that starts tiny but grows until it’s a plant that gives shelter to the birds. That sounds pretty innocuous until you realise that mustard was considered a pernicious weed by many in 1st century Galilee. It had its uses, but once planted was hard to get rid of and could take over a field. To sow it might be like me blowing dandelion clocks into my neighbours’ gardens – anti-social, disruptive, just downright not nice.

To take a stand for a world of grace, compassion, mercy and love in which all living beings are respected and cherished is to sow weeds in a nice field. In a world governed by money and power, neat and orderly, every act of love and generosity is sowing a weed. In a transactional world of cause and effect, of price, debt and payment, every act of grace and mercy is subversive and disruptive. It’s sowing a weed. And if we sow enough weeds, they might take over the field. A world of order and respectability that provides harvest for a few while most get little or less will be taken over by the chaos of life, love, mercy and joy.

Flower in cracked earth

I love the idea of this even though chaos scares me. Maybe that’s why we need to work together on how we disrupt this ordered way of doing things that is so harmful to so many. If we talk, think and act together, developing good relationships, building bridges across divides and building inclusive and caring communities, the chaos will be fun, positive and creative, rather than the kind of anarchy that I fear where people descend into self-interest and fascism emerges from the vacuum.

So – practical ideas, anyone? What are the dandelion seeds we can sow that will bring life to the well-ordered dead field?

Together We Can

A conversation over breakfast at a church weekend turned to electric vehicles. I made the point that I do these days, that if we simply replace current vehicle use with electric vehicles, we’ll have to burn a lot of fossil fuels to provide that much electricity and so electric vehicles may not make much difference to the bigger climate change picture. So we moved on to how different expectations of how we use transport could make the difference.

Someone mentioned that in the early days of Fidel Castro in Cuba and the US trade embargo, the cars they had were seen as belonging to the nation. If you were driving and someone hailed you, you were expected to pull over and drive them where they wanted to go. It wasn’t your car, it was our car. That’s one thought: sharing resources as things we hold in common for the common good.

Trucks platoonedAnother thought we discussed is how technology might enable more sharing. By the end of this year, the UK government intends to have trialled ‘platooning’ three semi-autonomous trucks together, driven by just one driver in the lead truck. Similar trials have taken place in the US and on continental Europe. Driverless vehicles platooned like this can drive safely very close together, potentially hugely increasing the capacity of existing roads and thereby avoiding the environmental destruction caused by building new roads. Couple up driverless technology to planning and logistics systems overseeing the needs of business – where and when the goods in the trucks need to be – and road haulage could be even more fuel-efficient. That could be linked up to weather forecasting systems so that the logistics could be planned around the likely availability of renewable energy.

Something similar could be put into place with cars and the transport of people. A ride-hailing app could be linked up to the availability of transport. So if I want to go from my house to town in 15 minutes time, I just tap that into my phone and the system would tell me the best option, whether a bus or a car share with someone driving that way anyway, and hook me up with the driver. Or it could tell me that the pool car parked nearby is available for me, and on my way I could pick up a neighbour or two. With driverless technology, the pool car could pick us all up, drop us off and either park or pick up other people and later another vehicle would take me home. The same app could tell me that I can’t go in 15 minutes time, but 10 or 20 are possible. With longer journeys, platooning could provide the same energy and planning efficiencies as with freight transport.

This was just a breakfast conversation, pooling as much ignorance as knowledge and enthusiasm. The technology may or may not help us, and in any case the gate-keeper on the road to lower-impact transport is our attitude. The choice to hold resources in common for the common good entails sacrificing the comfort and convenience we’ve gotten used to, for example driving my car where I want and when I want, without needing to consider the needs and wants of anyone else.

It did make me think, though, that so much of my environmental campaigning has focussed on individual action: changes I can make to my energy use and my other consumer choices, and the collective angle is no more than the combination of many individual actions. What if more consideration were given to the social dimension of climate action, giving primary attention to how we interact with each other? Building a stronger sense of belonging together in community may enable greater reductions in human impact on the environment than if we go it alone, and becoming less isolated may make us happier, too. In the society that emerges after the collapse of this one, the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts and we will have learned that a good life is only possible through a choice to serve the common good.

Imagine you’re sitting at that breakfast table. What would you say? What do you think?

 

In Through The Outdoors

I spent last weekend on a ‘re-visioning’ workshop for people working in sustainability. The programme was a mixture of being in nature in the hill-to-hill sunshiny splendour of the Brecon Beacons in South Wales, and exercises in using our intuition to connect with that nature and our visions for our lives. There was also a strong element of what we wanted to achieve as a group going forwards.IMG_2793

It was challenging, both physically and spiritually, but I really enjoyed rising to the challenge and have come back with a fresh sense of purpose and energy.

We were a diverse group of people with a wide age range, some in business, some working in the voluntary sector or in campaigning, yet we created a good level of community, of belonging together, very quickly. I think this was simply because, on the first evening, we made a commitment to engage with the process and contribute positively for each other’s benefit. The result was not only some good and helpful intuitions into each other’s core purposes but also some ideas for how we can collaborate together on some projects.

It goes to show that when we choose to create a safe and positive space, pay attention to each other and to nature, it’s amazing what we can achieve. After a day of bad environmental news – Surrey County Council giving more permissions to enable fracking on Leith Hill; and the Church of Scotland deciding not to divest from fossil-fuels despite a church-co-sponsored resolution to strengthen climate commitment gaining less than 6% of the votes at Shell’s AGM just the day before (so much for engagement) – I feel that hope for the future lies less in carbon reduction and more in building communities of resilience and care and in finding joy in nature. My weekend in Wales feels like a sign of the good that may be possible if we put our minds and hearts to it.

Earth Church

I was sitting in church a while back and the preacher said that we might look back and ask why the German church of the 1930s didn’t speak out more strongly against the rise of the Nazis. Then he asked, What will be the issue that future generations look back to the church of the 2010s and ask why we didn’t speak out about that? The answer seemed obvious to me – Climate Change.

That thought fed into a long-growing, dis-satisfied sense that Christianity has drifted away from the teaching of Jesus, has become too interested in itself and has located too much of its hope in a non-material afterlife (going to heaven) and too little in the earthly here-and-now. While there are many Christians, and Christian organisations, involved in environmental action and campaigning, where are the churches making this a top priority?

So I thought, what would it look like to combine a desire both to follow Jesus and to care for the environment? In an attempt to explore this I’ve started Earth Church. I know many of my blog readers aren’t particularly religious, but many of you care about the environment and nature, so I’d be interested in any thoughts you have.

Here’s the Earth Church manifesto. It’s based on the opening verses of Jesus’ ‘Sermon on the Mount’ – verses traditionally known as the Beatitudes (Matthew 5.3-10). Every time I re-read this it’s a fresh challenge to me, but then I think following Jesus was always going to be a taller order than I’d want – as radically counter-cultural as his teaching reflects. See what you think…

Earth Church Manifesto

In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew’s gospel, chapters 5-7) Jesus challenged his culture and gave good news to those being crushed by it. The eight sayings that open the Sermon challenge us and point us to good news:

Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.’ We aren’t here to accuse others, to wallow in guilt or to hide in despair. We don’t have the answers but we will ask the questions and explore a way to God’s kingdom with whatever companions are also on that journey and we will travel as light as we can.

Jesus said, ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.’ We will face with courage and honesty the loss we are experiencing in these days of crisis. We will seek solidarity with the suffering, hear and tell stories that give voice to the voiceless and search for language with which to speak the unspeakable.

Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.’ We reject power and domination and instead seek to follow the servant-example of Jesus. In so doing, we hope to challenge the idea that the earth belongs to the strong and the cunning. We hold out hope that God will raise up the humble poor and they will inherit the earth.

Jesus said, ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.’ Righteousness is often paired with justice in the bible. We will commit ourselves to seeking justice for all living beings, in our own daily choices and in the wider systems of society. We will refuse to be content with where the compromise falls, but will remain hungry for justice until all beings flourish together in peace.

Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.’ We were raised in fear through a narrative of scarcity, but we now choose to believe in a God of abundance, whose mercy is new every morning. Trusting God, we will seek to live generously and joyfully, keeping short accounts both with our own grudges and with those we have hurt, so that we will learn not to fear but to love.

Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.’ We will form a community of grace, love and accountability, in which we support and challenge each other to stay true.

Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.’ We will avoid adopting the same divisive thought framework that has broken the world apart in the first place. While aligning ourselves against the dominant socio-economic system of our culture, we will align ourselves for people and seek the alignment of all beings with the love of God. We will seek to act now by the values of the world we hope to see: a world of grace, peace and love for all.

Jesus said, ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ As long as some humans are persecuting other humans, as well as animals and plants, we are prepared to suffer too with all who suffer as we follow Jesus, the suffering servant of God. We are not seeking success, honour, status or reward and we will not cling to such things. We would rather be outsiders following Jesus than insiders within a socio-economic system that is profoundly anti-Christ.

Jesus said, ‘Follow me.’ The journey has already begun. Come and walk alongside us.

EC Logo 2

www.earthchurch.co.uk

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc: @EarthChurchURC

 

Cursing the Darkness

BeeNovember 30th is Remembrance Day for Lost Species. This evening, once again in Brighton, as in many other places around the world, there will be a procession and ritual to mourn the loss of animals and plants that have become extinct. We are in the 6th Mass Extinction Event in the Earth’s history and it is a tragedy for all life on Earth.

In this culture of progress, it is unfashionable, perhaps even subversive, to dwell on the dark side of things. We are supposed to be optimistic and believe that we will be clever enough to find a fix for every and any problem. Cancer, climate change, extinction – they will all be fixed – stop being so gloomy and join the party. Light a candle if you must, it’s better than cursing the darkness.

I think it’s time to do some cursing. The dark is dark and we need to say so, not least because living beings are suffering injustice, violence and death on the dark side of progress and shouldn’t their voice be heard?

Lament is an uncomfortable form of poetry. It screams in pain and curses the darkness. It is hard to hear. In the bible, lament is a kind of rogue genre, questioning the conventions of religion and challenging the way the world is. I think we would benefit from recovering the power of lament, because I think it is a lever that can change the world.

Last year I wrote a little about the Remembrance Day for Lost Species, in a post called ‘Loss‘. This year, I have written more. In fact, I’ve written a longish paper on the theme of Lament and why I think it could be important for us in these dark days – for the sake of endangered animals and plants and all victims of injustice, greed and complacency. Click here to read it, or use the Articles menu above. As always, I welcome constructive comments.

Rock Farm

I visited Rock Farm today. It’s a 6-acre market garden in West Sussex that’s been run as a community project called Roots To Growth, focusing on the therapeutic effects of growing things and working outdoors. It’s recently been taken on by OneChurch, Brighton.IMG_20171019_153122

Ben, who’s leading the project, showed me around. He’s keen to use permaculture principles to reduce the amount of physical workload (“There’s no point coming for something therapeutic and getting stressed by the amount there is to do”) but also to work in harmony with the plants, the people and the land. He’s also keen for this to be a place where people just enjoy being in the countryside.

IMG_20171019_153050This particular bed has been used for beans and courgettes this year, and has an apple tree at one edge. I loved the way Ben talked about putting in plants “that want to be near that tree,” meaning things like comfrey and dandelions that will attract good pollinators for the tree. The idea is to listen to the land and put plants together that not just work together but that like being together. Another principle is to listen to the people who are involved and, rather than presenting them with a long list of jobs, let them do the things around the farm that they find life-giving. It’s a model of land, plants, animals and people flourishing together. I guess that, in the big picture, the jobs that really need doing will be the jobs that, between them, the people want to do, and the work will get done. The farm might even be more productive – and certainly will be in the big picture.

IMG_20171019_152947I’ve been attracted to permaculture for several years and have tried a few practices in my garden. I love this idea of listening to the land, learning from it and working with it. Layer mulching has worked pretty well for me (layers of cardboard, compost and manure), and not disturbing the soil structure by digging works very well for me. I’ve loads to learn, though – e.g. about how different plants work together – but I think it’s a great idea.

It was inspiring to hear Ben’s vision for Rock Farm as a place where the point is not to grow as much stuff as possible, but to let people, plants, animals and the land itself flourish.

Psalm 147 – Bringing everything together

This is just to flag up, for those of you who like such things, that I’ve posted a new Creation Psalm bible reflection.

Psalm 147 brings several things together, including Catholics and Protestants. Impossible, do I hear you say? Well – have a look and see how the psalmist managed to do what the ecumenical movement has so far failed to do, and how they managed to do it hundreds of years before there even were such things as Catholics and Protestants. I make other points as well, about creation and salvation, time and space and… well, why not just click here and read it?

The day I left my auxiliary brain at home

I got to the office this morning and couldn’t find my phone. I phoned home (on the landline), and Mrs M confirmed my suspicion that it was still plugged in to the charger in the kitchen. Aarrgh! I felt naked and adrift.

Now, I am not a great mobile user. I’m not forever checking stuff. I keep notifications for apps permanently off. I use a paper diary. I don’t do emails on the phone. Some of this dates back to my early days with a smart phone, when I did use some of these features and caught myself referring to it as my auxiliary brain. At that point, I thought, “No.”

However, today I was in a mild panic. I had a couple of appointments lined up – people coming to see me – and I didn’t know how they’d get in touch to say they were running late, or whatever. What if one of my children sent me a text and they wouldn’t know I hadn’t received it?

In the staff kitchen, I told two colleagues about it and we agreed that, somehow, in the olden days, we managed fine without mobiles. One said that she had been to see Chrissie Hynde in concert the previous night, and Chrissie had stopped in the middle of a song to tell someone to stop filming and switch their phone off. We agreed that it’s rude, the way some people film concerts, and that the results are rarely worth seeing. We agreed that you get more out of a show by keeping your phone in your pocket and being fully present. One of my colleagues said that she’d read some research showing that people who don’t take photos remember more of their experiences than those who do. It’s as if you delegate some of your thinking to your phone, and lose a little bit of your ability to use that little bit of your brain. Also, you stop being fully present. Instead, you’re partly in the future, thinking about how you’ll share those photos on Facebook and how your friends will react.

I recognise that I am old, well – 52. But I do feel resistant to the idea of delegating thinking to machines. I know it is the future, but I don’t like it. What shocked me today is, even with the limits I place around my dependence on the phone, I realised how dependent on it I am.

In the end, both of my visitors turned up on time. When I got home, there were no texts waiting for me (apart from one from one of my visitors saying he was on time). I got through the day fine, with just the brain that’s in my head, just like we used to.

Garden Update (May 2017)

It’s been a long time since I posted about the garden. This is the last photo of the back garden I showed you, back in January 2015:Braemore garden

This is the same view today (sorry about the blurry photo):IMG_20170529_125244

Some of this is simply the difference between January and May, but most of the difference is down to hard work and planting! Today I did some more planting, and I think I am more or less sorted for the summer. My courgettes are getting on nicely, in the back and along the side of the house.

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Today I planted out broccoli seedlings in the front and in various places out back.

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You’ll see that in the front bed, I’ve also got some beet ‘spinach’ and a couple of tomato plants that are really doing well. I’ve also got strawberries in another raised bed in the front, and some raspberry canes against the fence. Today was the first strawberry harvest of the season. They were delicious.IMG_20170529_123208

On the patio, I planted some flowers in this old sink, to replace the ganzanias I planted a month back which were eaten by molluscs. These are geraniums, petunias and begonias, plus one ganzania (I live in hope) and a tomato – all from Portslade Church’s plant sale. I’m ready with my gloves and head torch to do a slug patrol after dark – I’m very reluctant to use pellets – it’s their garden too. I’m also trying another fuschia, in the hope that this one will survive the winter unlike its predecessor. I love fuschias.IMG_20170529_125258

The wire caging is to keep the fox from digging up the plants. There’s plenty of soil for him (I think he’s a him) to dig up in the wild corner of the garden, near the laurel bush under which he likes to take a nap. IMG_20170529_125629

I enjoy pottering in the garden, but what I really like to do is sit on the swing seat. I extended the roof a couple of years ago, sIMG_20170529_125656o I can sit there even when it’s raining. It has a great view (see below: oak, hawthorn, hazel, rowan, hydrangea, laurel, camelia, budleia, apple, pittosporum and next door’s silver birch, as well as grass I let grow tall, as grass should), and it’s tucked away from sight. I bring a coffee out here early every morning and have a little time thinking, praying and watching the birds on the feeder. It’s my favourite place at other times, too, for reading or just sitting. Because what’s the point of a garden if you don’t sit and do nothing except enjoy it?IMG_20170529_125133