Snow, Trump, and a Quiet Defiance

What does the recent / expected Snowfall and Donald Trump have in common? And no, that’s not the beginning of a very bad joke, though if it were the punchline probably ought to contain the words ‘slippery and slope’.

Perhaps they have in common that we love to hate them?

That both are the target of righteous anger?

That we seem powerless to be able to do anything about either of them. Though I suspect by the end of this I’ll be disagreeing with myself about the last. For perhaps there is something that we can do, yes, even about the snow!

Perhaps less obvious is that both Snow and Trump reveal a hidden truth. A good hard snowfall reminds us how vulnerable we are and how susceptible we are to a little inclement weather. (If only Trump were so short lived.) Once again DT has enraged nations, this time with his declarations over Jerusalem. Perhaps though he has done us a favour – just as the snow gives us a little reminder, for both have shattered our illusions.

I first met Sami Awad as I drove him back to his hotel at the beginning of a tour of the UK speaking about his home town of Bethlehem, non-violence and the work of the Holy Land Trust of which he was director. That was in 2013. Sami Awad, now executive director of the Holy Land Trust is back in the UK this December and has just finished a tour of the UK with the Amos trust who work for justice and hope in the Holy Lands. Sami wrote this last week that Trump [has] erased the illusion that there was an actual peace process. And that peace and justice … will not be realised … by one side forcing its will on others. That, It is only through a commitment to recognizing and honouring the full equal rights of all peoples in the land and building a new joint vision for the future that is founded in the principle of non-violence, justice, equality, and healing, will we be able to move forward in real peace.
That’s an awful lot to digest on a Sunday morning in Advent. Advent is not only about chocolate calendars and the run-up to Christmas. It is also about a world-view that says that “hope appears where it’s least expected and when it’s least anticipated. 2,000 years ago it was a Jewish Palestinian baby born in the occupied village of Bethlehem. Is it perhaps this advent a recognition of the “reality” President Trump talks of which is the failure of a quarter century of the peace process. It’s also the reality of the on-going discrimination and dispossession of Palestinians living in East Jerusalem.” (Amos trust) If those are some of the realities we are faced with, what then can we do? This is perhaps where we have a chance to do something positive – but it will take a change of heart. Our Gospel reading today begins the account of Mark with the dramatic prophesy of Isaiah – interpreted in the light of what Jesus achieved. A change of heart for a community which recognised a different way of being, not one which focussed on the past as if nothing would ever change, and acting out of the same fears that it had always acted. A community which focussed on the future they wanted to see and acted in ways to bring about that future. This transformation is key. It is simply the transformation of our way of looking at a situation. Rather than to base our reaction always on what has gone before, it is to look into the future and base what we say and do on what we want to achieve in the end. If we want a future of peaceful relations, then our actions must reflect that. If our lives are disrupted by the weather, then we have the opportunity to reflect on what we believe we are in control of. I defy the snow; not by going out in spite of the warnings, but by changing my perspective. I defy DT; not by shouting righteous angry slogans at my television, but by sharing the story of Palestinians and Israeli’s of Christians and Muslims and all those who stand together and choose not to be defined by the violence or words of others, but who are defined by the common humanity which binds them into community.  Build a little hope this advent…

Welcome to the feast

Matthew’s parable of the marriage feast (Matt. 22. 1-14) has its origins in something much older. Luke has a version of it too, both probably added to it in order to say something to their communities. Matthew to the Jews, Luke to a wider audience. So the great supper in Luke becomes a Marriage feast and the certain man becomes a king. Matthew raises the stakes as he tells the story. Christians were being persecuted, the temple destroyed in 70ce and so we hear this reflected in the story as slaves are killed and the ‘king’ sends his army to burn the city.

How might we re-tell it today? Who is offering the feast and for whom? Who is invited? Who turns away? What are the consequences? Who ends up at the meal?

Don’t get confused with Matthew tagging on the bit about the marriage garment, it’s a different story, and asks: ‘Are we clothed with the right frame of mind?’ Not as you might be tempted to read it, that, even if you’ve been invited, you’re still not welcome. Everyone has been invited, and everyone is welcome. Some just choose to choose not to come.

Can we talk of a spiritual malaise of our time with this parable? I wonder what for us is the feast? Are there many who have chosen to choose not to partake? I don’t mean turning up to church on a Sunday morning, for that can be as bad as anything else we do without the ‘right garment’ (don’t forget that’s not about millinery).

We’ve lost a language of the feast of the kingdom. The language to speak of deep things such as pain and suffering and death and by and large we have been distracted by trivial matters because it is so difficult to talk about things that are real. Some years ago a film tried in part to speak about this – many people avoided it because of the violence, language and drug use, however it did have a point and it called us to reflect on our choices:

“Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family, Choose a big television, Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed-interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisure wear and matching luggage. Choose a three piece suite on hire purchase in a range of fabrics.
Choose DIY and wondering who you are on a Sunday morning”

This sounds so old, it is.  20 years in fact.  I suspect even if you’d not seen Trainspotting, you’ll recognise the rail against materialism which I’m told is all but over. it’s been replaced by exerientialism. Which may not have been a word until a few moments ago. Welcome to the consumption of experience. (Radio 4’s Costing the earth addresses this very issue) By the way, did anyone tweet that they were coming to church this morning, or is it on facebook, instagram, snapchat? There is now 4G here so you could probably live web cast the experience… (if you wanted to…) So the twenty years later sequel T2 rails against social media and offers a jab at the culture of zero hour contracts, unfulfilled promises, never learning from our mistakes, slowly reconciling ourselves towards what we can get rather than what we had dreamed of, Watching history repeat itself.
And again the King invites us to the feast and still we’re not yet ready. We’ve been distracted by stone temples, faculties, PCC meetings, summer fetes, the size of scones with jam first, or is it scones with cream first and the minutes of the last meeting mis-spelling someones name, the lighting not being to the current ecological expectations, cutting the grass to less than a quarter inch lest someone complain. And we neglect to speak of the great things that attending the feast brings. The feast of life that is living with God’s love. The love that knows no limit. Living in the knowledge of who we are despite what we might own or have means to do. The love of life for its own sake, the life that Jesus taught us to have, and to have in abundance.

Welcome to the feast.

Eco-Church: Story, Myth and Theology

(almost) as presented to the Governing Body of the Church in Wales.  With thanks to the good folks at Hope for the Future from whom parts of this have been gleaned.

It is not without a small amount of irony, that I titled the guide to Eco-Church “Treading Lightly on Holy Ground.” The Eco-Church project is simply a tool to begin a conversation about climate change, about the environment and how we might respond as church communities and as individuals. It is not a checklist, though there may be boxes to tick. It will not tell you what to do, though it might suggest actions you could take. It will not chastise you for driving to church, though it might suggest you consider a lower carbon form of transport. It will, I hope, help to engage your heart for creation.

We don’t fall in love with an idea. It’s hard to fall in love with graphs facts and figures that all suggest bad news. So I’ll offer you none of that. Instead I want to tell you three stories that will, along the way, dispel two myths and offer you four key theological principles why caring for the environment and tackling climate change is a key Christian task.

I received a letter through the post a few days ago. It was with regard to the documents you have in support of the motion to follow the Eco-Church and Eco-Diocese scheme: Treading Lightly on Holy Ground and Resources for Creation Time 2017. The hand written envelope intrigued me so I opened it with some interest. The letter was largely supportive of the resources but contained a complaint that all this amounted to was little more than tinkering at the edges. That we need to be loudly prophetic, a great thorn in the side of the establishment calling for divestment from fossil fuels, challenging financial corporations taking bold actions, making courageous decisions and other such statements. That doing the little things are not enough. I have to agree, the little things are not enough. As a church we should be loudly prophetic and we should divest from fossil fuels, challenge financial corporations, take bold and courageous decisions, particularly with regard to our building use – perhaps, beside transport, our greatest carbon footprint as a church. However, the letter came printed on two sheets of thick paper with wide margins, printed single sided. Unless we are reminded daily to “do the little things” however insignificant we might feel they are, even down to the paper we put in our printers, how are we ever to take the large significant decisions. For these small actions can be the catalyst for greater actions. Don’t be put off that you might only be able to begin with small things. Do them cheerfully as God gives you strength.

For we have a Covenant with God and all of creation. There is an interdependence of all life, which is spoken to us throughout the biblical text. We cannot do without each other, nor without the rest of creation. There is a technological narrative that we can solve the issues of climate change with some brand new technology that we have just not yet quite conceived, this is an artificially constructed world based on a false hope. Green is not a luxury, it is part of what we are – especially as Christian people. I think we are recovering from a tendency within some theology to see the work of God in the pattern and unfolding of history, but not to see the continual work of God in creation. This had several unintended consequences; ‘creation’ came to be seen as the beginning of history, something that happened and was completed a long time ago. However, the Eastern church never lost the understanding of creation as an ongoing relationship in the present. The world depends upon God for every moment of its existence. And Human beings are very much a part of the system.

A friend was for a time a youth worker in Govan, Glasgow. (Not full of suburban families.) She taught them whilst at the youth group that if you dropped litter, you picked it up. And if you couldn’t pick up what you dropped, then you picked up someone else’s to make up for it. Knowing her, double what you dropped. She commented to me recently that after overhearing one of the young people, her work on this subject was done, for they had been heard to chastise each other for dropping litter and not picking it up. We need to be ready to take care of what is around us, and be ready to do more than what we think is our own share if that is what is necessary and to call gently into line those around us who we see abusing what we have. We can call this the Sacrament of Creation. The acknowledgement that there is not one small part of creation that is not loved by God. If we understand creation to be that whole which is loved by God, every footfall we take is on ground which is loved by God. Every resource we use is from something that is loved by God. Everywhere you look is a place that is loved by God. So the Myth that there is a special place called ‘Away’ where we can throw things when we are done is false. Friends, there is no away. Wherever we put what we cannot deal with is a place loved by God. We need to think more of ourselves as participating with creation, involved in the whole process and reminded by our friends when we get it wrong.

We have too a Priesthood of Humanity which is the acknowledgement that humanity speaks the praise of God together with the animals and plants, all life on earth through the right use, you might say sacramental use of all things of creation. Nowhere better is this seen as at the Eucharist, where we take bread and wine the ordinary things of the world through which God will bless us. There really are no alternative resources to what you see, and when it is gone, it is gone. Ironic then, that humanity had to go to space to remind itself of how fragile and small the dear blue green earth is.

We need also to reclaim the Creation narrative. I don’t mean the seven days of genesis, rather, we desperately need to restore a balanced picture of what the Bible teaches, for we need not just an occasional passage to help us understand creation care, but we need to use the whole Bible and to rediscover its vision of creation. I was once in a meeting when a senior cleric was heard to suggest that Creation Time the period from 1st September until the feast of St. Francis was of little use to us, because the lectionary readings for those Sundays did not relate to care for creation. I was angry at the time because of the dismissal of something that has been globally very influential. But now, I just feel sorry, that that person did not see the Bible in its fullness as a beautiful and sophisticated account of the interplay between humans and the rest of creation but which is not set out simply for us in a single text. It has to be recovered from the whole of the Hebrew Scriptures: from the poetry of the prophets and the sayings of the sages, from the rituals of the priests and the parables of the storytellers. Since the New Testament shares this view of the creation, it becomes the basis for Christian belief about the environment. And the crowning glory of creation is the Sabbath Feast of Enoughness which is the recognition that we all need a rest. Not just from the madness that is our consumer driven world, or even from the now trendy green economy. Can our culture bear the idea of not being so economically active? I wonder? What about seeing Sabbath as a dive into the peace of God? I would like to see the Sabbath day, our Sunday, become a day of preparation for the coming week, that we take into that week the sense of Sabbath rest in all that we do. Not in the sense of lack of activity, but of honouring all life.

There is no away. There are no ‘other’ resources. We have a Covenant with Creation, A Sacrament of Creation, A Priesthood of Humanity and A Sabbath Feast of Enoughness.

It is core Christian business to be concerned about the environment. Our task is to re-awaken our sense of connection with the earth. To re-engage our hearts, that this task might be joyful. And so I commend this motion to you with some words written for the feast of St. Francis which you will find within the Creation Time Material.

If we had but a glimpse of the world
as a resting place would we be caught
in the sacred story? Honoured as the
whole of life becomes a day of preparation.
We might just then become co-creators
of the dawn for a divine re- imagining
of the lost art and beauty of creation.
A life laid fallow, for a time, is not in vain.
To let go, to allow the natural restfulness
to rise up and with gentle ease, to participate;
earthed once again.