Yesterday’s publication of the IPCC’s report on climate change has left me feeling quite despondent. I expected to feel better – after all, it should feel good to be proved right. But, perhaps, deep down, it would have been nicer to have been proved wrong. It would have been good to have been told that the science has been mistaken and I can drive my car without concern, heat the house to a comfortable temperature, use a tumble dryer in weather like this, eat more meat, and so on. But I can’t. And we can’t. We’re already over half way through the carbon budget the report allows us. We’ve got to change, but I think that some of my despondency comes from a pessimistic view about our ability, and our willingness, to change. I expect that politicians will continue to tell lies (and believe the lies of big business) and argue and do much less than is needed.
So what do I do? I have been under the weather this week with a cold, and needed something lighter than Bill McKibben to read (yes, I’m still reading Eaarth – a sign of how busy life has been lately). Anyway, at times like this I often turn to Precious Ramotswe of the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency in Gabarone. Alexander McCall Smith’s beautiful stories are love letters to Botswana and to a way of life that values simplicity, courtesy and respect in the face of a world that is changing. Here’s a quote from “The Good Husband of Zebra Drive”:
“The world, Mma Ramotswe believed, was composed of big things and small things. The big things were written large and one could not but be aware of them – wars, oppression, the familiar theft by the rich and the strong of those simple things that the poor needed, those scraps which would make their life more bearable; this happened, and could make even the reading of a newspaper an exercise in sorrow. […] So the small things came into their own: small acts of helping others […] acts of love, acts of tea, acts of laughter.”
But, as Mma Ramotswe is aware, you can’t simply retreat into your own small world while drinking another cup of bush tea. Daily life with all its problems is still there. So what do we do?
The small acts of love – even “acts of tea” – are important, especially when they are planted in hope like seeds in the earth. Small acts of humanity humanize the world when the larger systems dehumanize and commodify it. Offered in faith, our small acts can have an effect way beyond themselves: five small loaves and two fish, given to Jesus, fed five thousand people. But we also need to have the big picture in our sights. We need to be thinking and talking and acting towards changing the world so that its systems are governed by the same simple love that makes someone a cup of tea and gives hospitality to another being in need. We need to burn less carbon. We need to change the basis of our economics from growth to grace. We need to share the goodness and beauty of the earth. These things will happen if they can happen with love and respect and a generous heart. They might not happen if the change is left to the politicians to argue about and impose.
So we need to build community with our near neighbours and our far-away neighbours. We need to listen to stories and hear songs of liberation, hope and redemption and tell new stories and sing new songs.
Perhaps, just to finish by focusing on my own small world, the church can build on our sense of community that crosses so many boundaries around the world and draw on the stories of liberation that are at the heart of our faith and be part of the change that needs to happen in the bigger world. And, of course, everything at church involves a cup of tea at some point.