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A prayer for COP ( United Nations Conference of the Parties)


Sustaining God
as in November, at great cost and with great urgency
the leaders of our species
and those with concern for their common home
will gather in Glasgow,
we ask for your welcoming, affirming presence
in the many layers of gathering
which are part of that event.

Give to those who make decisions
a freedom from the burdens of a past
which have pushed us to this cliff-edge.

Give a dawning vision of your offer of healing
greater than the blocked horizon of what it might cost

Argue and wrestle with the powers and principalities
of expediency and despair

Open every human ear to the voices of the Earth, and of sisters, brothers, siblings
who already suffer sharply

Save us from the despair of complacency
and the toxic temptation
when the visitors have departed
to embrace ‘business as usual’
for that ‘normal’ has gone

And our only future
will be in wakefulness
trust,
hope,
yes, joy
as we live out your love for the Earth we are part of
through your Word made Flesh
Jesus, our Friend.

Hallelujah Anyway!
AMEN

Word on the Wild Side: Lent thoughts to prepare for COP

A word about ‘A Word’

Noting that people are now beginning to put stuff up for Lent…..

These texts arose from an invitation to provide a series of short reflections in Lent, for Glasgow’s online Christian Radio Station, Radio Alba, as part of a spiritual preparation for the Conference of the Parties (COP) United Nations Climate Conference  due to take place in Glasgow in November 2021 .

As chaplain, I’m suggesting that the best preparation is to do so in the framework of regular worship and Bible Study

Given their short form, you’re reminded that these pieces are to provoke reflection. You might look in vain for specific  recommendations on insulation and church heating, but you’re clever enough to find those elsewhere. 

Links to the audio versions below

It’s OK to disagree, but  better still if you examine why you do.

The texts are also provided here as a PDF ( below the sound links)

Introduction

Fifth word: For fifth Sunday in Lent

Good New Year – yes, really!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good New Year – and I’m not joking!

 

 

(and I won’t rub it in about how nice it is once more, suddenly, as a cyclist, to enjoy clear roads!)

 

 

What a cloud of opportunity comes with this year! as a movement, we have learned so much as we engaged with  barriers of distance and regulations: not of our choosing, but in place for our protection.  

 

 

As chaplain I discovered I really can offer to be wherever and however you are as churches, and then also share our experience with others online. That’s one reason I can be happy to visit, irrespective of the numerical size of your fellowship: we give light to the ‘whole house’.  And the encouragement even of small things lifts the spirits of others.

 

 

Churches in vacancy, and currently lacking in support  might also consider using one of the Chaplaincy’s  ‘major reflections’ ( video sermons) each month. There will not be a month without at least one, and there is a back catalogue,

 

 

So yes, some  tough months remain, both of  precautionary restrictions to the fuller life of our churches,  but also, to make the most of our spiritual preparations to welcome the nations of the world to Scotland, to discuss and challenge each other towards  greater ‘ambition’ in their responses to ‘climate change’.

 

 

When  lockdown first loomed, we seemed about to miss  the expected boat of COP 26 – when the world was due to descend on Glasgow, in the colossal  international circus of a Climate Change  conference, though something by the same name, even more urgent, if, reshaped by the events of this last year,  still awaits us in November 2021.

 

 

Perhaps the cancellation in 2020 was a blessing: I saw little sign in 2020 that our churches were anywhere close to being prepared for this  catalyst for growth in our familiarity with the backdrop of crises against which every single aspect of our faith, life and worship will, for the rest of all our lives be played out.

 

 

Certainly, there have already been conferences and consultations as to what might be the “priorities for Scotland in the year of COP.” 

 

Listening in on these,  folk often opt for 

 

 

‘more charging points for EV’s’ 

 

 

or push for 

 

 

“an earlier target date than 2045 for the nation to be carbon neutral”

 

 

Or yell at governments to do all the work, make all the changes. Carts before horses? (Though I will admit that sometimes, investing in a cart encourages the acquisition of a horse!)

 

 

However …. having recognised amidst what should have been a totally compelling torrent of facts and figures, that it  really is primarily the change of mind and heart that takes the lead and tips the domino of change,  and  leads to the “behaviour change” so beloved of our Scottish Government, I’d like to suggest some much more demanding priorities than these.

 

 

First of all, the oldest and most basic of spiritual duties: hospitality and welcome.  Together with  the Trees of their homeland,  Abraham and Sarah – the founding family of our faith and of others –  welcomed the Strangers who turned out to be God. 

 

 

(Of course, attending conspicuously to the details of hospitality, such as eco-friendliness in food and facilities, greatly strengthens the witness. It really does undermine the point of an environmentally-themed service when you meet for fellowship afterwards over single-use plastic.)

 

 

Whatever else we might contribute to the deliberations and decisions in the  white heat of the conference floor itself, an atmosphere of welcome and encouragement in the cold and damp of a Glasgow November should not be underestimated as a force for good. In that, whether  we’re next door to the conference site, or in the hills and islands exposed to the November gales. We really have learned lots about being in touch; and about being more than just physically  present, this  past year. 

 

 

Secondly, as we have seen from the surprisingly worthwhile statement from Scottish faith leaders (- and my surprise is that a statement with such broad agreement can be so strong and searching-) a commitment to change ourselves, and the things within our own grasp, rather than looking only to others and to governments to play their part without disturbance to our own participation in cultures and lifestyles which, like it or not, are still part of the problem, rather than leading the way in engagement. 

 

 

Of course these changes will involve, challenge -and potentially strengthen – our ways and targets of prayer and worship: though this is also a joyous challenge: to deepen our relationship with the Sustaining Christ; to uncover the treasures in our fields, and to bring  from our hoarded reserves of wisdom and hope. To encourage prayer and worship, in partnership with Creation, to come into their own.

 

 

And this year, that’s what the chaplaincy of EcoCongregation can reasonably hope to offer to local churches. Not a convenient filler for a gap in a preaching rota, but solidarity, encouragement and partnership in realising the spiritual value and potential of the Body of Christ. How blessed and gifted we already are.  How seldom we recognise this. We. And our neighbours too. 

 

 

I will continue, on receiving invitations, to enquire how congregations have reached out to neighbouring churches to share the occasion. EcoCongregations are the yeast in the dough of the church, as the church is the yeast in our various cultures, networks and environments. 

 

 

The future we had been relying on is gone. Since this future  involved acquiescence in the  demonic myth of church irrelevance, despair,  and terminal decline, other options may not be all bad!  But alertness and responsiveness are mainstream gifts of Christianity as a whole.

 

 

Some parts of our movement have helped each another with visible signs of spiritual change: *attention to the environmental impact  of a congregation and  – even more – its component households;  

 

 

*support for Christian Aid, SCIAF, Tear Fund and others who bring to light the harm long entrenched and visited on those with least power and wealth; 

 

 

*facing  with solidarity rather than blame and condemnation the  just transitions which will have up-front costs not only to ourselves, but to others, and having the courage not to be  neutralised  by the towering “we-know-better”  demons  of  threatened employment, prosperity and peace, when it is the crises we are still perpetuating  that, not only in the long term, deeply  threatens all these human values and far, far, more in the home our species shares, as the sustaining peace and balance of the  living planet.  

 

 

The spectacularly, if understandably  unpopular healing courage of Christ at Gerasa/Gadara,  [(see Mark 5:1-20, Luke 8:26-39, Matthew 8:28-34). ] which  was also an attention to misplaced spiritual  powers, is given us not just to inspire awe, but also action. 

 

 

As everyone who is pleased that their taxes fund the NHS will recognise, healing change will cost someone somewhere something, usually long before the costs of continued harm, however apparent, are sufficiently recognised. 

 

 

It’s a very difficult story, not least in what also seems to be  the destruction of living creatures, let alone the prosperity of the swineherds, though intervention and partnership with the living world has its robust side. 

 

 

We plant trees, and need to plant more, though the right trees in the right places help most, and yet  those tending our most valuable wetlands often remove them, transforming carbon-positive to negative. 

 

 

Is any of this ‘simple’? I don’t think so. But human beings like you have brains and the capacity for discernment.

 

 

And before the Season of Advent fades, hold on to its key message: even in winter “Wake up!” – there’s an exciting and demanding year ahead, and as part of EcoCongregation Scotland, you’re well-placed  to enjoy it too!

 

Eight out of ten for a National Treasure

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It’s New Year’s Day….

as I often would as a local  grassroots minister, I was putting together something like a ‘New Year Message’ which will also follow. 

When, following on from my daughter’s long-awaited viewing of a Dr Who Special, our favourite Grand Old Man  – David Attenborough – popped up on the screen,  fervently and usefully reminding us of the significance of the COP 26 event in Glasgow this year. 

Wonderful  that the BBC still feels able to slip this in to some of the remaining peak viewing (before the unmitigated nastiness of Eastenders, no less!).

All of us express things as best we can, and Attenborough is no different: his recent semi-autobiography ‘A Life on This Planet’ would be very good and useful reading for the New Year: so many connections, and the importance of one life, one specices, to all the others. 

God bless David Attenborough.

Two niggles, though. Not by any means to turn off or not to see what he still has to present.

The first is the almost Reaganesque conviction that :”if we work together there is no limit to what we can achieve”. It’s an inspiring thing to say, and uplifting to hear, though it’s unwittingly based on the fundamental philosophical toxicity which also sells us ‘unlimited growth’.  There certainly are limits to what we can achieve, and to how our intervention, vital though it is and will be, to our engagement with climate and other environmental crises. Unless we proceed with an awareness of these limits, of our mortality,  of our not-God-ness – indeed, unless we also remain mindful of one of God’s most helpful hints, that we are “dust and to dust we shall return”  then our assault and abuse of the planet, whatever our good intentions, is the  only thing which will have no end. 

Great and greater things  than we have so far seen may yet emerge from COP and from all the revolution of awareness that we need to encourage surrounding it: we need the humility as well as the ambition, to do only what we really can; to be prepared to value what may seem a very small thing. To offer to God with dignity whatever our own tiny contribution might be to a world different from what might have been.  But please, every time you hear of “solutions” to climate change, or “calling a halt to the crisis”, as if we can simply fix it,  take a deep breath and pause for thought. 

As Pope Francis long ago pointed out, we are ruled by/at the mercy of the Earth. It’s less a matter of war and victory than of what do do with a oonflict you really can’t “win” [Cf Luke 14:31].  Befriend the rest of Creation, rather than “fight” climate change. Watch out for those military metaphors!

My second worry – and for many it won’t seem troubling – is the title of his forthcoming series “Perfect Planet”.  The interpreted notion of ‘perfection’  has played into the hands of racists and tyrants for centuries.  Divorced from its biblical context of ‘finding our true place and purpose’,  ‘perfection’ causes endless waste (‘imperfect fruit’, and far far more) and intolerance, as well as fuelling despair:  no action we might take in response to the crises will ever be ‘perfect’. No car is ‘emission free’, no form of energy has zero environmental impact. Nature itself, the Bible rather hints, needs our human intervention and management, to fulfil its potential. But perfection is something else. My own ministry would be completely impossible if perfection were required in even one dimension of it, be this my own lifestyle,  the infallibility of my theology, or my ability to keep track of my diary!

Please watch and enjoy all that David Attenborough,   and the huge team of skilful, and creative people who stand behind him, have to offer. I will. 

But please: remember and cherish your limits. Please, be thankful  for your life, gifts and commitment in every imperfection.  

And if you think I’m being too fussy, then my point is made anyway 😉

This year, rely on grace, and friendship with Christ. Let’s see where it leads.

With or without horns

Draft Shooting script for a sermon on Christ the King: Matthew 25

Just to start with: what makes a sheep a sheep and a goat a goat?

Is it horns – here’s some goats with no horns, sheep with fabulous horns.

Is it attitude, or capability for damage?  just give it some thought . In the meantime,

From next Sunday, we’re offering a daily video to recycle the penitential, reflective, Season of Advent, as a resource  which  Christianity provides for  encounter with global threats and upheavals,  but which has degenerated into a countdown to consumer Christmas, punctuated by chocolate.

(Maybe keep the chocolate!)

I’ve found it’s very worthwhile to hitch a lift on the Christian calendar: 

To work with beloved festivals and actions of our faith, variously shared  across different churches. 

If there’s any ‘landfill’ in the life of your church; something  of which you’re absolutely certain  there’s no environmental repurposing possible , I’d be delighted to hear about it. Without reservation or restriction, there’s nothing too holy to be green.

Even if not every church ‘does’ Season of Creation, for which, in EcoCongregations,  we pedal really hard,  there’s evangelistic mileage in a tree in church at Christmas, in an outing to a wind farm for Pentecost, and Easter-with-wood, from Sunday Branches to crucifixion tree,  and more.  

Last year I found you can now get into some very productive trouble with that modest  traditional practice of  giving up meat for Lent.  

Today,  many churches, mark  the  “Feast of Christ the King/ the reign of Christ”… a minefield for how we think of Jesus. 

Do we know Jesus as a friend, a mentor, companion, a partner in life lived with justice,  a comforter in disaster, a treehugging speaker to wind and waves….

or as ‘he who must be obeyed’.  I hope we’ve grown out of the latter.

Blind obedience risks idolatrous obedience to just one received  presentation of Jesus.  Imprisoning him  in the throne.  Dumping all our own responsibilities on him, as if we had no purpose ourselves. 

That is not the message of this story.

The Blessed Virgin Mary, at the Annunciation, describes herself –  repellently,  if we’re rigorous – as a “slave” – and yet asserts the right to her own decision. 

At which point the angel clears off: no longer needed!

Likewise, whenever  her son Jesus was in danger of being identified as  a despotic ruler, he repurposed, what we understand as  ‘rule’. 

Above all,  with  this story, we welcome Jesus  the  master storyteller of urgent change. Jesus the catalytic artist who, rather than being a candidate  for more profitable retraining, compellingly  recycles both fears and faith.

When we turn up at eco meetings  we get that look: Christians: what are THEY here for? 

But here’s the good news.

You’d think that it  would be an uphill task,  when Lectionaries that many churches follow, are as innocent of climate crisis as you’d expect a sheep to be of justice.

And yet, it both is and isn’t hard.

First of all,  the  glossy veneer of environmental irrelevance  in our translating and presenting of Scripture in our lifetimes isn’t that deep. 

 A wee scratch and you find something very green underneath.  Good News for every creature.  And, what Pope Francis insists on: the inseparability of Creation care  and justice, as we listen for the voice, groans, joy and praise of every creature, after their own kind.

What you also find, is , how much of Jesus is warnings. The earliest known Christian hymn is “Wake up sleeper!”

We don’t approach with  complacency recrimination, but rather, with gratitude, our immediate ancestors in the faith, who concluded  salvation was an exclusively  human thing, and tweaked sacred language accordingly. Writing prayers and hymns reducing  creation to an inert lump of property signed over to  exclusive human whim, and benefit. 

Especially, we thank them when they acted in the cause of justice.  That’s our  point of happy  solidarity with them.  Even  those who, with the best intentions, shoehorned the idea of endless linear growth and progress into  hymns, prayers and more. They longed for the end of poverty and expressed it that way,  though God-as-only-endless has  turned out to be a diabolical shortcut to ‘endless-only is God’. 

We thank them because, as we become aware of  slants filters and lenses, and because awareness breeds respect,  we are called  to seek out, right now, as they did right then,  what’s right for our own age on this planet.  

Our parents might  look like goats but they were mostly trying to be sheep.

Listen, that we may hear what the  Spirit is saying to God’s people today, because today is so different, even from a very recent yesterday. And  God keeps up to date.

When it comes to  ‘time’, Bible writers and Earth scientists both tend to think in “ages”;  in chunks of time punctuated by upheaval. The turnings of those ages are very delicate times indeed. 

They occasion leaps in faith, rather than getting bogged down in the prudence of a world which, like fossil fuels, is already passing away. That’s why scriptural  resources of judgement, inherited  from times of persecution, can be responsibly, if recklessly, recycled:

Transitions are Time to embrace – with justice – the vision and moral imagination of the common good, which,  it turns out, rewards seemingly selfless justice more realistically than selfishly tidy calculation. 

Astoundingly, science and faith concur. 

Nonetheless, when Jesus says he will be with us through the End of the Age- how do we receive that as better news, because  it’s how it’s written, than seamless,  “endless” “always”. 

Well, for a start,  whatever has an end also has a purpose.  Endings enable  new beginnings.  

When we befriend our mortality, then, through the cross, we come closer to our friend Jesus, who did not flee endings, but repurposed their opportunities. 

Befriending mortality is a  foundational insight for the deep, reverend urgency which equips us to respond in days which, far from uniquely in history,  have a right  to be seen as ‘the last days’ .

So: to this wonderful and scary folktale  of sheep and goats that the same Jesus whose God wanted none to be lost – therefore inflicted on his friends.  

This story, scarily,  but ultimately realistically, confronts us first with the challenge of ‘too late’. Life is like musical chairs. And you don’t know when the music will stop.

And that’s why this  shocking tale is not about any conveniently or impossibly remote future, but bluntly addressed to you right now.  

It’s a tale of slippery slopes and  irretrievable tipping-points, a reminder that without  extreme vigilance,  things really can get out  of hand.  

And that like every hurt  we’ve done the planet, even damage done without malice, is real damage. Seemingly  “innocent injustice” is unmasked  as self-inflicted harm.  Malice may be absent, but choices are not.

Identifying this as folktale is no insult. It’s long been recognised that folk literature – even watered down , candy floss ‘fairy stories’ – play an important part in children’s mental health and the development of character.  

In stories, like the highest of high-level computer languages; Far more going on under the bonnet of than any report of supposed fact.

This story -mixing horror and  rural idyll – wakes us up to the perennial urgency of justice in all aspects of life, and in every choice we make.  It’s a very ‘adult’ tale indeed!

Above all, in our blind spots. Sheep and goats are  equally unaware of holes they are digging, treasures they are  accruing . 

In the course of “safely grazing” -which, truth told, is what sheep and goats are most bothered with –  the sheep include, the goats exclude specifically the most glaringly vulnerable fellow creatures.

That’s where, both  in contrast and confirmation of  Christ on the Cross in Luke, this folktale from Matthew rules out any excuse of ‘not knowing what they do’.

I asked what makes  sheep  sheep and  goats goats. It’s nothing to do with horns, nor with capability for damage.  And it’s the shepherd, the judge, the protector of the flock as a whole, who  makes this identification.

I’d like to risk suggesting, because Jesus doesn’t actually call it that , that this story is not the “last”  or ultimate  judgement,  but more, a  judgment at  the end of this age.

So today,  in the midst of all our crises, do you identify as a sheep or a goat?  

As righteous or a sinner?  As sheep with horns, or a goat without ?   

Five hundred years ago, the Reformer Martin Luther concluded we should  identify, with truth, as both. If I brutally simplified the theological argument: damage is done, and we’ve been part of it, but  there’s no cause to give up,  for in Christ, it’s open to us to be goats in sheeps’ clothing.  

It was the choices, not the species that identified the left and right.  And justice, which the Jesus in this story reminds us is not a human invention, but built in to Creation from the foundation of the world.

EcoCongregation Advent Calendar Project: The Judge to cheer the Forest

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EcoCongregation Video Advent Calendar 2020

\ an Alternative Advent event! Looking for reflections based on all the aspects of our life, work and prayer: housing, food, anti-waste, anti-poverty, ethical finance, insulation, farming, forestry, just transition… whatever you’re into.

ALL DAYS NOW ALLOCATED< THOUGH STANDBY MAY BE AVAILABLE

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