By the waters

It being the first day of the month, it was time for Pray In The Sea. Inspired by Ourvoices.net, this was something we did in Brighton in 2014 and 2015, and we have revived it this year – after all, climate change has not gone away and the average sea level continues to rise. We meet just after low tide and stand in or near the sea, edging back as the tide rises. We keep silence for about 20 minutes, which means that it’s open to anyone of any or no religious practice or affiliation, and then there’s the opportunity to share any thoughts with the others, and that’s it.

2015.10.01 Praying for planet. Brighton beach 2This picture shows the time, in October 2015, when we were joined by Maina Taila from Tuvalu and Rev. Maleta Tenten from Kiribati. This was especially poignant, as the Pacific islands had been a particular focus for us, as they are so vulnerable to the rising sea. Also in this picture are a couple who were just walking along the beach, saw our banner and joined in.

Today, even though it was May Day, the sea was grey and wild, with dark threatening clouds scudding across in a cold easterly wind. I was thinking about Maina and Maleta and their island communities, where people are already leaving their ancestral homes for the safety of places like New Zealand. I thought about the people who are still, daily, crossing the Mediterranean to escape famine, drought, war, poverty or whatever other reason is so great as to force someone to leave their home and spend everything and risk everything to seek a different life in a new land. In a new land, their accent and perhaps skin colour will always mark them out as a foreigner. They will have to work hard to learn a new language and learn the unspoken rules of a new culture; they will have to work hard just to survive. As the West becomes increasingly hostile to migrants and refugees, they may never feel welcome and may never feel truly at home again. How does it feel to look out on an angry sea, across which a new but hard life may await, knowing that you can’t go back to an old life that civil war or climate change has destroyed?

Mucking about on my banjo yesterday, I discovered how to play Don McLean’s ‘Babylon‘ (capo at 3rd fret – seems obvious when you know). “By the waters, the waters of Babylon / We laid down and wept, and wept, for thee, Zion / We remember thee, remember thee, remember thee, Zion.” The Jewish exiles in Babylon, as described in Psalm 137, felt very homesick, to the point where they couldn’t sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land and hung up their harps on the willows. There is some linguistic fluidity in the psalm between the words Jerusalem and Zion. In verses 5-6, which perhaps express most deeply how far from home the exiles felt, it is Jerusalem that they vow never to forget. But in verse 1, they remember Zion, and in verse 3, their captors ask for “One of the songs of Zion.” In the bible, Zion is often simply an alternative name for Jerusalem, perhaps referring to the hill on which Solomon built the temple. But sometimes, Zion also takes on a greater symbolism to speak in ideal terms of, say, the messianic kingdom, and this utopian sense gets reflected in later thought, for example in modern Zionism, or in the spirituals of American slaves, or in the songs of Rastafari reggae. Zion becomes a metaphor for an ideal homeland yet to come. So, going back to Psalm 137, there was a challenge to the exiles not to hang up their harps in (understandable) sadness and despair, but to learn how to sing, in a foreign land, the songs of Zion: songs of the world to come when they would be free. For the exile who has hope, home is not where you came from, or where you are, but where you’re going.

As I stood by the waters of Brighton this morning, I thought that a similar challenge presents itself to climate activists and anyone else who feels that the world is not as it should be and longs for a better world. I think it’s to do with acknowledging the sense of dissonance we feel – that sense of being out of step with a narcissistic consumer culture – and making something creative of that sense. It’s about identifying yourself as an exile, a foreigner, a migrant, whilst living in this culture and participating in it for the common good – but always with a foreign accent and always out of step, always finding the cultural norms weird and un-natural, always refusing to assimilate. It’s odd because we are exiles within the culture we have left – it’s an inner migration but with an outward effect. The challenge is about learning to sing the songs of Zion in this foreign land: imagining how a world of justice, peace and life in its fullness might look in its different aspects, and putting that vision into conversation, song, story, poetry, art and a life lived out of step with what is, but in step with what we hope for. And I wonder if standing by (or in) the waters and weeping because of the distance between Babylon and Zion is the beginning of learning the songs of Zion and the journey home.

My feet in the sea

Noah

For those of you who like bible studies, I’ve written a new one about the end of the story of Noah. Click on the link here – Noah After The Flood – or use the menu. It’s developed from an older study and explores the darker side of the story and its challenges for these days of extinction and rising seas.

For those of you who don’t like bible studies, I’ll be writing something else soon!

 

The Lord’s Prayer

Rowan Williams, in his book ‘Being Disciples’, makes an interesting link between the line in the Lord’s Prayer “Give us this day our daily bread” and the succeeding lines about forgiveness. I struggle to follow Rowan Williams a lot of the time, probably because I’m not one of your natural mystics. (For all the time I spend staring at trees, I would find it difficult to articulate what’s going on for me in those encounters beyond simply finding it spiritually satisfying). However, what Williams wrote did feel profound and these are the thoughts I’ve been having in the days since reading it.

First of all, I have grown to like the Lord’s Prayer. I started using it more frequently a few years ago when reading about St Francis of Assisi. I like St Francis because he liked animals. I like animals. Apparently Francis told the Friars to say the Lord’s Prayer 24 times when they prayed. I find the prayer says all that needs to be said, and very succinctly and helps keep my rambling prayer-thoughts on track. In particular, I think that the double-sided forgiveness clause is a stroke of genius, connecting my attitude towards those who have wronged me to my hope that God will forgive me, and describing a life lived in grace towards God and towards the world. The perfect tense in Matthew’s gospel challenges me – I ask for forgiveness “as [I] have forgiven.” It’s not a pledge of vague intention, but a statement of completed deeds, which is presented as the model for God’s forgiveness of me. The language of debts and debtors (not sins or trespasses) also seems to root forgiveness in the real, material world. I might forgive you for the way you spoke to me, but I’d still appreciate having the ten pounds you owe me – they’re two quite different things … unless you’re Jesus, in which case they’re not. I think that, for Jesus, spiritual and material were like dimensions of one reality, in the same way that thoughts and actions were dimensions of one real person.

The debt thing leads back to the daily bread. If I am praying for my daily bread, trusting God for my needs, then why would I borrow, either from a neighbour or from the future? Racking up a debt would indicate that I have not been content to live within the gift God has given. God’s provision is enough, but it doesn’t always feel like it. The present moment is enough, but I worry a lot about the future and fret about the past. On the flip side, if I am content with God’s gift of today, why would I lend to you? Who cares about tomorrow, or next year, when in each day, God provides? I should just share today’s bread with you, because it’s “Give us…” So it seems that the radical trust involved in living in the grace of what God has given is wrapped up with not finding ways to get more for myself and not keeping accounts with others, but letting the grace ebb and flow around and everyone will have enough. It seems like a very gentle way of life, and contrasts hugely with the way the world is, where some of us accumulate so much at such great cost to other people, animals, plants and the earth itself.  Jesus’ alternative seems very liberating to me, but a long way from where I am.

The Lord’s Prayer is found in Matthew’s gospel (Luke’s version doesn’t count because he’s missed half of it out while his mind wandered – so much for ‘Lord, teach us to pray’). Nigel Wright says that Matthew presents the story of Jesus – including his teaching – as a framework within which we may learn to live as his followers. To me, it’s as if within the grace and truth embodied in Jesus, there’s a broad space where we can live free. Jesus’ teaching can be hard, and his example is near-impossible, but it’s not a test to fail or a stick to beat yourself with. It’s a gift from God, with trust and forgiveness and love at the heart of it – a broad space within which life is given and received, hallowed and enjoyed.

There are parallels in the older covenant. The Torah, the Law of Moses, is not just a collection of commandments against which your life is to measured. It’s five books of stories, including some great stories (and some terrifying stories), about people and the God who made a covenant with them, within which life can be lived as a gift of God’s liberating grace. I think that engaging with the Law in its wholeness teaches how you can live free by God’s grace: not just the commands but letting the larger story live as your story, inhabiting the story just as you might inhabit the land itself as a gift.

I think it might be the same with Jesus. The Christian life may be less about some transaction when a holy man was killed on a cross and more about that episode plus the rest of his story too: not a transaction at all but a gift. It’s about inhabiting that story as our story and I think that the Lord’s Prayer takes us to the heart of doing that. Amongst other things, it looks for God’s will to be done on earth – including the bit of earth that’s me and the bit I inhabit, but applying to all other inhabitants of earth too. As already pointed out, it uses the material language of debt rather than the spiritualized language of sin. It insists on being plural: although Jesus has been advising praying in your room, in secret, it’s still ‘us’ and ‘our’ daily bread. So it’s a prayer prayed with the world, on behalf of all beings on earth who (in the words of Psalm 104.27) look to God to give them their food in due season. And it has at its heart this radical trust in God and a refusal to keep accounts either with God or with anyone else, because today is a gift and the gift of God is always more than enough. So the Lord’s Prayer is not about my spiritual (or mystical) practice. It’s about a world whose basic system moves wealth from the poor to the rich, a world of refugees and war, of pollution and climate change, of exploitation of soil and extinction of species, and it’s about the transformation of this world until it resembles a just and peaceful community in which all flourish. I wonder if it literally was the Lord’s Prayer, i.e. the prayer Jesus prayed, the prayer that kept him grounded in and aligned to his mission, and I wonder why it’s not had the same effect on the church that’s prayed it for 2,000 years or on the dominating culture that’s supposedly rooted in Christianity? Or on me, for that matter.

“Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Such a simple sentence that, if it were ever put into practice, would change the world.

 

 

Life and death

I’m sorry about this one, O cheery reader. But dark days seem to call for dark stories, told around a fire with the gloom and the shadows surround you, while the wind howls outside and Jack Frost’s fingers creep under the window towards your neck. Stories about forests and wild things with big teeth, and magic and monsters and ghosts and death. Sorry.

My journey to the office finishes with a walk through a graveyard. Twice a day, at least, I walk past memorials to Georgian and Victorian Presbyterians who were once members of the church where I am now minister. Most of their bodily remains were removed to a cemetery on the edge of town when the church building was redeveloped in the 1980s, but their headstones are still there, around the edge of what we now call the garden.

img_20170103_142115When this church was built, in the 1820s, it was common for churches to be surrounded by their dead. Until the rapid growth of the towns in the early nineteenth century, people living in villages would go about their daily lives with their ancestors in the centre of their community. They would walk past those ancestors on their way into church to join in worship with “angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.” Life lived in the company of the dead.

I was particularly conscious of this at Christmas. For the first time in over 10 years, on Christmas Eve I was able to listen to the carols from Kings College while preparing vegetables. I realized that the last time I had done this, it had been with Dudley, my dear friend who always came to us at Christmas and who died last winter. I had to wipe away a little tear, especially as the Dean on the radio intoned those beautiful words in the prayer that begins the service: “Let us remember before God all those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore, and in a greater light.” On Boxing Day, sitting at the table with my extended family, we gave thanks not only for the food but also for loved ones who used to be with us at Christmas but are with us no longer, very mindful of course of my nephew, Dan. It felt to me that the celebration was richer for acknowledging our dead loved ones, still loved.

As towns grew and space became scarce, dealing with the dead became the business of the state rather than the church and was done at the edge of town, or even in a different town, rather than in the centre of the community. There was no need for churches to be surrounded by graveyards, although memorial tablets still filled up the internal walls. Nowadays, many churches (like mine) have refurbished and have removed the memorials to the long-dead whom no one remembers. In our drive to be modern we have cut ourselves loose from the past. We don’t hold bibles or hymnbooks in our hands but read selected words on a screen that might also show a picture of the natural beauty that’s out there somewhere beyond our frosted windows. We sing words that were made up just the other day. And we don’t acknowledge the dead.

Talking with colleagues, we remark on how funeral practice has changed. These days it’s more common to have a small committal, perhaps with just immediate family, and a thanksgiving service quite separately. Sometimes no one goes to the committal, as it’s the other side of town and by the time you’ve gone and come back, the sandwiches and half the guests have disappeared. The thanksgiving service is often promoted as a celebration of the person’s life, with several tributes, often humorous, by family members. Talking with colleagues, we agree that it’s good that these occasions are so much more personal than they used to be. But we can’t help feeling that it’s not just the ministers who are being sidelined, it is death itself.

In a fascinating blog on the Dark Mountain website, Charlotte Du Cann writes about the sense of the layers of dead under her feet in her Suffolk village, and imagines their rage against the destruction of the countryside and of village life. She writes, “We are in a spiritual crisis, an existential crisis. We don’t know what it means to be human anymore. We have lost contact with the meaning of our time, our presence here.” In a society that has cut itself loose from history, that doggedly ignores the ancestors, that has built a deathly yet death-denying civilization out of death (dead trees fossilized into coal and dead animals fossilized into oil) and where our pursuit of life can only be at the cost of felled forests and poisoned soil and gaping mines and a greenhouse atmosphere and the mass extinction of wildlife, are we really still human? We have lost contact with our humanity as we have lost touch with the humus, the layers of death that are no longer present in the exhausted earth. We are no longer people of the land to which our ancestors belonged. Instead the land was enclosed, stolen, commodified, sold, exploited. So where do we belong now? Without roots in the humus, who are we? Without roots in God (because there’s no need for God since we nature-defeating, death-defying biological androids think we’ve become gods), who are we, really?

I remember, long ago, my theology teacher, Heather Walton, talking about an ancient African statue she had seen in an art gallery. It was titled “The Prophet” and was a figure of a human, clothed in some tight-fitting costume, with its mouth disturbingly wide open. As she looked closer, Heather recalled her horror to see that the figure was actually clothed in the skin of another human being. She said perhaps all prophets speak from inside the skins of the dead.

What message would we speak from inside the skins of extinct animals? What curses should be screamed?  What prophecy spoken to a death-denying yet deathly civilization?

To ignore the dead is to deny life. If we are to find life – and ways of living – in these dark days while our civilization unravels and the ice melts and the soil shrivels and extinction advances, we need to acknowledge a number of things:

  • We need to acknowledge the dead. We need to own our losses and name our dead and own up to our relatedness to them and show them some respect. We need to find ways of doing this, perhaps in renewed Eucharistic liturgy or other rituals. When we no longer walk past them in their graves and when our feet no longer tread the same paths and work the same land, we need new ways of connecting with our ancestors, not least because that enriches the value we place on those loved ones still living and those yet to come.
  • We need to acknowledge the darkness and the pain in so many lives today. We can’t settle for dealing with problems in the abstract. We need to know names. We need to sit in the darkness with brothers and sisters. If we won’t wear their skins we should at least sit with them. We can hear and re-tell their stories. They are not ‘the poor’ or ‘the refugees’ – they have names and we are related.
  • We need to acknowledge the dead species that will never again live on earth. We need to scream out this tragedy, this crime, this waste, so that it might perhaps stop.
  • We need to acknowledge that we are not likely to solve all the problems that face us. But if we can become human again and know again what that means, the new world that emerges from the ashes of the old might at least have some humanity about it.
  • And, I think, we need to acknowledge God and find ways of articulating spirituality, because I think that connection with God is as important as the connection with the earth for connecting with and receiving a new humanity. While this spirituality will need to have roots in history and learn from ancient traditions, it will also need to be true to the darkness of our present situation. It will need to refuse to collude with philosophies of power or privilege. It will need to resist domesticated or utilitarian views of God. I am increasingly convinced that it will be a spirituality that finds God in nature, in wildness not romance; on a cross outside the town rather than in a tidy garden, even if the garden was once a graveyard.

 

 

 

Creation Psalms

I am about two-thirds of the way through a sabbatical, in which I’ve been exploring connections with nature. There are a few posts here on the blog about this, but a new project that’s emerging from this period of focused study and prayer is a website called Creation Psalms. I’m writing some reflections on some of the psalms that deal with nature/creation, incorporating some of the insights I’ve been getting from staring at trees and reading the occasional book.

It won’t appeal to everyone, but here you are, if you’re interested:

http:\\creationpsalms.wordpress.com

 

Dartmoor

I spent a few days on Dartmoor, camping in a small oak wood up the valley of the River Erme. Piles Copse is an ancient woodland, once part of a farmstead. It’s a beautiful and peaceful place, ascending from the river up into dark, impenetrable, boulder-strewn woodland, filled with oaks so old they have beards. It was fantastic to spend time in it.

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And yet … not in it. I could only spend a few days here because I’d carried enough food with me. I could only drink safe water because I’d brought the equipment with me to purify it (there’s a lot of poo on Dartmoor). I could only take shelter from the voracious midges because I’d brought a tent. In fact, I felt it was less a case of being in nature and more like being against nature. Being attacked by swarms of midges quickly shattered my romantic view of the peaceful community of creation. They may well, for all I know, have been thanking God for the food he’d provided for them, as I would have done if I’d caught and cooked one of the fish in the river. Thinking of Isaiah 11, maybe one glorious day the midge shall eat sap like the aphid, but even this magical sylvan grove was far from paradise on that sweltering, still, humid evening.

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Water purification stage 1

This struggle against nature goes almost back to the beginning of the biblical story, in the curse laid on Adam in Genesis 3. The transition from foraging to hunting to settled agriculture was possible because we learned how to subdue the earth. But in the end, the earth, on which and from which we have lived through our toil and sweat and struggle against it, will subdue us – “To the earth you shall return.” (Genesis 3.19). A ruined medieval farmstead high on Dartmoor was a good place to reflect on this. Life must have been hard for those farmers – too hard in the end, I guess.

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Water purification stage 2

So I think any scheme for harmony between humanity and majority-nature, and any spirituality of nature-connection, must avoid too much romance and take account of the reality of how technological humanity has evolved against nature. We are not simply animals with tools. Our use of technology over millennia has made us what we are today and if the technology were taken away, we would quickly lose the struggle. But perhaps being aware of this could help us set better limits on that struggle and on the harm it is doing to fellow creatures. Spending more time and effort in paying attention to the life around us and enjoying it, combined with humility and frank acknowledgement of how much harm we can do, might help us make vital moral choices about how we use technology and for whose benefit.

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One further reflection is about the backpacking experience. Concern for minimal impact made me very aware of my footprint on this sensitive environment. I had to think carefully, firstly, about the food I took because I had to carry all the rubbish off the moor; then about how my washing waste could be minimal both in terms of where I put it and how much precious water I used; then about my own waste. The moor was very dry, so I sourced my drinking water from the river, which meant having to purify it. This took time, as well as gas (itself on a limited supply), and I had to balance keeping myself hydrated in hot weather against how hard-come-by the water was.  Then there’s having a minimal impact on yourself, in the sense that whatever you want to have on the expedition you have to carry and every ounce counts. It is sobering to reflect on how little I needed on the trip compared with how much I use in normal life, when water and fuel are on endless supply, the waste goes down the drain and some nice men turn up each week to take our rubbish away somewhere, and the impact of my consumption is not borne by me. I wouldn’t want to live a nomadic life, although an increasing number of people are being forced into one. I wonder if part of the problem is thinking “This is it, this is the good life,” when in fact I am a pilgrim on a journey and not yet settled in a world of peace and flourishing. Settling too soon is, in a sense, trying to cheat God and leads to the huge levels of destructive impact that are presently threatening our civilization. As The Eagles sang so poignantly on ‘The Last Resort’ – “Call someplace Paradise, kiss it goodbye.”

 

 

Identity

I have been doing a bushcraft course, with the assessment weekend coming up fast. One aspect of the course is natural history. We have had to learn to identify trees and woodland plants, as well as animal tracks and signs.

Out and about in parks and in the countryside these past six weeks, armed with my pocket tree guide, I have bored Mrs Mabbsonsea and other companions with my constant stopping to figure out what ‘that one over there’ is. What’s frustrated me is that the pictures in the book don’t usually look much like that one over there, but I have found the process more fascinating than frustrating. I feel that the need to notice in order to learn has made me much more attentive and appreciative of the living being in front of me. I feel that the desire to assign a name to that one over there connects me to it – which was the broad and basic point of doing the course anyway.

In the bible story of Genesis 2, the man gives names to the animals. I’ve tended to see that naming as an act of taking power over them, but my recent experience makes me wonder if I was wrong. Perhaps it was an expression of humble connection in that ideal place: taking an interest in another being and noticing what is special about it. “Hmm… this little brown bird looks very similar to that one, but their beaks are a different shape and one is happy to feed in the trees, but the other only feeds on the ground.”

Richard Bauckham, writing on the praises of creation in Psalm 148, says, “Sharing something of God’s primal delight in creation enables us also to delight in God himself.” I think he is on to something. Perhaps as I learn to identify more beings with whom I share life on earth, the deeper connection that results from that deepens my understanding of my own true identity as one special being in community amongst many.

Paris

It was a humbling experience to be in Paris last weekend when pilgrims arrived from all over the world. I had walked with the UK ‘Pilgrimage2Paris’ group for a day, between Burgess Hill and Brighton, and saw them off along the south coast the next morning. It was great to see them again at the completion of their journey. Other groups had walked from other parts of Europe. One group had come from Peru and Yeb Sano had led a walk from the Philippines via Rome. Some had cycled from the UK and one couple had cycled from Vietnam: 16,000km.

I was so pleased to meet Yeb Sano, who has been such an inspiration since he fasted at the Warsaw climate summit in 2013 following the devastation caused to his homeland by Typhoon Haiyan. We’ve fasted and prayed for the climate. We’ve stood in the sea and prayed for the climate and those already being affected by climate change. And some have walked and cycled for the climate, to be in Paris for this super-important UN summit. People can be amazing.

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UK pilgrims at the reception service in Paris, Friday 27th November

Sometimes I think you just have to get on with something. These are all ordinary people, just doing something because something has to be done. Fast. Pray. Walk. They are small gestures that may never be more than that, but may connect with others and build something significant. In any case, I think that small gestures, motivated by love and by dis-satisfaction with the alternatives, are easily aligned with the redemptive love of God and so tend to be transformed, and to transform, way beyond their own essence, like a seed springing to life.

All of these journeys demonstrate an alternative reality. At its most basic, this says that you can go from A to B using your own natural resources. You don’t need oil, just time. Each step, each turn of the pedals, moves you along the earth a little. The gradient rises and falls. The wind blows in your face and through the autumn grass. The rain falls and you get wet. There may not be a toilet or a shop. You are a pilgrim on the earth, connected to the land on which you travel – you don’t get that in a car or a train and definitely not in a plane. Then companions make the journey far richer, and perhaps make it possible at all. That all adds up to a powerful alternative reality.

One of the pilgrims told me that she wouldn’t have described herself as gregarious, but she had learned what a wonderful and beautiful thing it is to be in community with others. After two weeks in close company, when one of the beds on offer in their lodging in Paris was in a room on its own, no one wanted to take it.

This demonstrates one way in which a gesture can be transformed into a larger reality. This person’s choice to be part of the pilgrimage transformed her desires, through experiencing a depth of comradeship that she would otherwise have avoided, but now really values. I have found something similar through my year’s fast from meat. As a meat lover, I have sometimes craved it, but I find that now that I have ended the fast, my desire for it has almost disappeared. (That is why freedom comes through discipline rather than through licence, I think). Eating less meat and, to a much greater extent, deeper communal bonds are features of a life with lower adverse ecological impact. It may even be a life that puts more in than it extracts.

Mary Grey (e.g. Sacred Longings, SCM, 2002) and others have argued that we are motivated and shaped by our desires. The negative, reductionist campaigning that can typify the environmental movement, ignores this to the peril of us all. We need our desires to be transformed so that what we long for inspires us to a better world. We need to be able to articulate those desires so that we can identify them, communicate them with others and so that they can be continually reformed.

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Place de la Republique, Paris: Memorials to those killed in the Friday 13th shootings

The very recent history of Paris puts two alternative visions into stark contrast. A wounded, grieving, frightened and angry city, following the terrorist shootings on 13th November, could easily lead the world along a road of security through the barrel of a gun, and there were lots of guns on show in Paris last weekend in the hands of lots of police and soldiers. We easily slip into this narrative, which George Orwell summed up in one of the slogans of Oceania in Nineteen Eighty-Four as “War is Peace”. It’s a narrative of self-defence and justifies the division, the hoarding of wealth and the utilitarian view of resources that brings us to war and ecological catastrophe. To borrow from Jesus’ parable, it’s an easy, wide, obvious road – a road you go down by default, with the flow.

On the other hand, the pilgrimages, the demonstrations all over the world on Sunday, the fasting and the praying and all the other ways in which people have shown support for a good deal from this UN climate summit, all point to an alternative. It is less obvious. It looks harder going, rocky, narrow and steep. You have to make a deliberate choice to travel it. People will think you’re stupid: standing in water – what’s that going to achieve? Well, if you’re priests carrying the Ark of God in the days of Joshua, it will open a way into the Promised Land, but you have to get your feet wet before the waters part.

The pilgrims got their feet wet. They have been changed through their experiences of the journeys they have made: the distances, the landscapes, the comradeship, the hospitality of strangers. In the deeper connections they have forged on the journeys they have chosen, the larger journey to the Promised Land is already underway.

 

 

 

 

Moses the Eco-Warrior

A couple of things I’ve read recently have mentioned the Exodus story in relation to climate change.  Move over Genesis – you’re just too clichéd, with your garden and your God saying creation is good and, by the way, let’s not mention filling the earth and having mastery over it.  We need liberation songs.  We need stories of freedom for captives.  We need Exodus to take us through the desert to a land flowing with beer and chocolate (or whatever passes for milk and honey in your imagination).

Michael Meacher MP, writing in Resurgence Magazine (March/April 2014), refers to the part of the Exodus story where Pharaoh’s heart is repeatedly hardened (by God, somewhat embarrassingly – ahem, move on).  Meacher describes how Pharaoh “will not give up the way of life to which he is addicted”, i.e. a life that relies on a nation of slaves.  Today, the rich world’s addiction to stuff requires us to harden our hearts to the poor who are suffering most because of our way of life.  We know about slavery, plantations, loss of habitats, deforestation, tar sands, intensive industrial farming, flooding, species loss, refugees, and so on.  Yet we have to harden our hearts to it all because otherwise we would have to change beyond imagination.  We dare not set God’s people free.

In the same article, Meacher refers to the story of the Golden Calf, cast by Moses’ brother, Aaron, while Moses is up the mountain receiving the law from God.  Much of that law addressed how the Israelites could live together in such a way that all could thrive – a combination of instructions about worship and justice that Jesus (amongst others) later summed up as “Love God” and “Love your neighbour as yourself.”  Instead, the people worshipped a golden calf.  Meacher says, “The threat to religion doesn’t come from the likes of Richard Dawkins, but from out-of-town hypermarkets … The poverty of affluence has left a profound spiritual void in the West, and this remains an emptiness we all need to be awakened from.”

I have just started reading Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill’s book, ‘Enough is Enough’ (and, yes, I do have that song running in my head).  Outlining their case for a Steady State Economy, as opposed to one based on endless growth, the book is subtitled, “Building a sustainable economy in a world of finite resources.”  Sounds good.  In his foreword, Herman Daly refers to the provision of manna to the Israelites in the desert.  In the Exodus story, each morning (except for the Sabbath), the Israelites found a wafer-like substance lying on the ground, and this provided their basic food for forty years of desert wandering.  They called the substance, Manna. Exodus 16.18 says that when they measured it out, “Those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage.”  Each had gathered enough for that day.  If anyone tried to keep some over, it spoiled overnight.  The exception was the day before the Sabbath, when they gathered enough for two days and it didn’t spoil.  God provided enough.  It wasn’t a luxury diet, but it was enough.  No one could sell an excess and get rich, and no one starved.  There was enough for everyone.

We need to learn how to be content with enough, and build that ‘enough’ into our economics and our culture.  In order to do that, we need to be set free from our addiction to ever more stuff.  Perhaps the path to our freedom lies through the desert, learning to trust God, learning to love with softened hearts, and learning to be happy with little (but enough).

Welcome to Lent.