By the people, for the people

Frack protestorsYesterday these three men were jailed for protesting against fracking in Lancashire. They had climbed onto trucks carrying drilling equipment and so prevented them from moving. The men were charged with causing a public nuisance. Simon Roscoe Blevins and Richard Roberts were jailed for 16 months, Richard Loizou for 15, and a fourth man, Julian Brock, was given a 12-month suspended sentence. In sentencing them, the judge said that he believed they were not rehabilitated inasmuch as they remained convinced of the rightness of their cause and that only a custodial sentence could punish them.

Lancashire County Council had refused planning permission for fracking at this site, but the UK government over-ruled the local authority. There is talk of making fracking exempt from planning permission, but the Lancashire case shows that local democracy counts for little anyway. So not only is the democratic channel of protest demolished, but in applying anti-terrorism and other laws to what in the past would have been regarded as peaceful, non-violent direct action and imprisoning those who protest, the government has illegitimated all opposition.

What will never happen is the oil and gas companies, or their political friends, being charged under public nuisance laws for the nuisance their drilling activities will cause to local people, which is likely to be far greater than a country road being closed for a couple of days. Neither will they ever be imprisoned for the criminal damage that burning their products causes to people, animals and plants all over the world, with the poorest and most vulnerable being the first and worst affected.

Biblically, rulers have a duty to protect the poorest and most vulnerable. Psalm 72, praying for the king, says, “May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.” (Psalm 72.4). When governments defend the cause of big business and crush the poor, they act contrary to the will of God. When governments put money-making before caring for the vulnerable, and at great cost to the vulnerable, they act contrary to the will of God. Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and money.” (Matthew 6.24).

But… When governments choose money over God, are they simply reflecting a democratic mandate in the sense that choosing money over God is a daily choice many of us make? Jesus also said, “The rulers of the nations lord it over them and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you…” (Matthew 20.25-26). If I want to say that my government, in delegitimising opposition and promoting economic growth through developing a domestic oil and gas industry whose products we should not use if we want to check climate change and keep the earth habitable for humans and many other species – if I want to say that they are not acting in my name, I need to make sure that I am choosing God over money, choosing servanthood over power, and doing what I can to defend the cause of the poor against the oppressor. I have much to learn, and there’s no time to lose.

 

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?