Conversations about trees

I headed out on my bike today.  A Christmas tree blew across the road in front  of me, escaping the pile by the bins by the pavement.  The needles were falling off and beginning to brown. It had done its job of celebration, but was now discarded. A nuisance, cluttering up the streets, as if it were not beautiful, or had never been so….  where would these thoughts lead?

The small team employed by Eco-Congregation Scotland has been looking over the archived material we have accumulated in response to the call for ‘resources’. It’s a sobering experience. A small change, as a result, is that the link to the section previously headlined ‘Celebrating Creation’ is now labelled ‘Greening Worship’.  

We are recognising that, along with the extreme urgency of action and participation in environmental initiatives at all levels, we have already entered a  more spiritually challenging era of response to the Christian call to care and partnership with Creation. There are, as a result, few laurels to rest on. 

Not that we cease to celebrate,  nor to deepen our knowledge with study, but perhaps, in the urgency, we identify the more immediately with our fellow creatures. Less on the fence, more with dirty hands. Beyond celebration.

We do learn, of course, from other times and places. In the 1970s and 80s, and before, the threat of nuclear destruction hung over the young people of Europe. Popular culture ruthlessly exploited the mood of’ No future’. with various despairing, bitter and anarchic  outcomes.  What was the point of studying, working, starting a family, if the super-powers were going to blow it all up anyway?  

But  in our day, catastrophic change is not just possible but likely,  unless we all choose a different way of life. How did we let this happen, and what can we do about it?

Out of the still darker days of Nazi Germany, the poet Bertolt Brecht wrote “To posterity” of his heart-wrenching sadness, living in a time when something so lovely and harmless as “a  conversation about trees” seemed like “a crime”, “because it involved silence about so many horrors”. Brecht was living in a time when people of faith were barely visible as a force against the tide of Fascism, and indeed, some had allowed Christianity to be co-opted, though others, in the “Confessing Church” quietly suffered when they did stand up or try to speak out.  Brecht was more convinced of the ineffectual hypocrisy of people of faith, than their value as a power for justice.  Nonetheless, even in writing a poem “to those born after”, there was, nonetheless, something akin to  hope.

The other subtlety I missed, on first reading, was Brecht’s  recognition that, even in the darkest times,  “a conversation about trees” remains something beautiful and valuable, and so, likewise, though ‘Celebrating Creation’ may no longer  be the appropriate headline, we all of us need to seek opportunities of celebration, refreshment and inspiration. Plant those  trees!. Get out on that country walk!. transform the church grounds into a haven for wildlife!  Visit Whitelee wind-farm and see how farming, conservation recreation and sustainable energy belong together. (How about a church outing to do that? I’d love to come with you). And make sure you come along to Dundee for the Eco Congregation  annual gathering on March 30th.  Do all you can to be encouraged and enthused. Fall in love with Creation. That is, itself, an environmental action, for what you love is what you’ll live for.  And radically aware ‘conversations about trees’ are now precisely what we need to have, offer and share, with no evasion or denial of the crisis. (If conscience need be troubled, it’s in the ‘criminal’ avoidance of chat about trees!)

 

To the wonder and delight in the ‘natural world’, our movement adds   passionate engagement, though perhaps also lament and protest.  But we need to let this soak in. Hymns and reflections on Creation have often been ‘soft’, and ornamental: ’Isn’t nature lovely’. Nice.  But even in the recent past, that has  left us with few resources to face genuinely ‘natural’ disasters .  God may not be speaking as simplistically or judgementally as some would like to infer after an earthquake or a famine, but we should not conclude that God, who in Christ calls us to the love both of neighbour and enemy,  is saying nothing.  Nor, as people of faith, need we have nothing to say. In these dark days – and here’s the surprise –  the relevance of our faith becomes acute.  Love for the neighbour includes the planet. 

 Of all the resources we can commend, your own faith, and the faith of your community undergirds all else. Build it up, be encouraged. Be open, be honest.  Be the ‘environmentally confessing’ church we need to be at this time.  And  have the confidence to  make the changes to the shape and content of your prayer and worship, embedding environmental  solidarity into your regular ‘diet’, so it comes naturally. I pray the chaplaincy may help with that: do get in touch, and we’ll see what we can do together. Your stories will encourage others.

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As a PS: I will be sharing the leadership of an event on Iona just before Easter, leading into the service for Palm Sunday in the Abbey, which we hope to shape in an environmental context. Those whose environmental commitment is inspired by things ‘Celtic’ may find this worthwhile. Please do share !