In January I recalled the tragic poetry of Bertolt Brecht “What times do we live in, when a conversation about trees seems like a crime, because it involves silence about so many horrors?”. (See this archived blog entry) . Just a few months later, in one of so many grim reverses jammed into this ever-concertina-ing age, I find even those thoughts tossed up in the air and shaken to bits. January has already become “back then”. Spiritually, we are, or ought to be at a tipping point. ‘Business as usual’ is slipping beyond mere obsolescence into toxicity.
Because as if we needed more perspective, the Amazon and the Arctic, those areas perhaps so like the wilderness in which Christ was prepared for his ministry, – and this precisely because ‘wilderness’ was presented in the New Testament as the place impervious to the shaping influence of “civilised” humanity – these holy places of God’s encounter are ablaze.
Out of the end-of-the-world atmosphere of Nazi Germany, just heading into War on the back of Fascist racist populism, Brecht lamented the tragedy that soft and beautiful things like “a conversation about trees” seemed to provide “the opium/anaesthetic of the people”. Getting them through a dark day without the engagement that was called for. I saw today that even in defiance of the recommendations of a right-wing think-tank, the naked bribe of reduced fuel duty -and thus encouragement to burn more with impunity – may be dangled before voters. You couldn’t make it up!
Never mind religion or opium: try “The petrol of the people!”
Today, if I were to approach the desperation of Brecht, I might suggest that it has finally become a crime to *avoid* conversations about trees: even that to worship God or indeed, to pursue social justice without acknowledgement of the deep spiritual challenge of global momentum to catastrophe, will ring hollow because it ignores the overarching context of our day.
Though, in the meantime, I also do continue to be comforted by the experience of the “bells that can ring” as the creation-connectedness even of regular worship comes to light: the treasures of our faith, hidden in plain sight.
Is it enough to draw attention, rather than waiting on transformation?
The vitriol of Amos 5 is nonetheless lurking in the wings. How dearly we always hoped that referred to someone else, conveniently distant in time and space.
This is a blog, not a sermon. It is an exploration of thoughts. Sermons have to be pastoral. And not only my various audiences, but I myself need God’s help with stomaching the bitter pills cascading down our throats ..of scientific findings and news of real events and damage that won’t be undone.
Am I realising that to describe myself too, in all this, as a ‘sinner’, or in Brecht’s terms ‘a criminal’ is not to be condemned , but to be blessed to claim a starting point for hope? The obsession with tidiness and perfection strangles more than it encourages.
This, then, is truly raising the bar: To do the little I can do, and offer the rest to God.
For now the daily and weekly devotions of Christian communities, like conversations about trees, do comfort and sustain. That must not be diminished. The indefinable goodness that sometimes indwells becomes daily more valuable. It can be more so.
Though I heard of a Christian leader of a local congregation who demanded that worship should be kept free of “all that tree-hugging nonsense “. “Which Bible“, as Desmond Tutu used to say, more or less, “is he reading?”. How I would love to be incredulous at that report.
The ecological conversion of the spirituality and liturgy of the churches, let alone their institutional frameworks, takes time that we do not have. But that need not disable us. No matter: the Spirit prays where we are incompetent, Christ is with us, when our footsteps falter.
So we give thanks for any and every step nonetheless. Every spark of hope.
Even our own small encouragements, actions, and conversations.
Help us not to under-value the small things God can use.
And allow that God’s people will find the reward of joy and even laughter on the way.
For meaning, and relevance of the quest for Good News and the Kindom of God,
is calling our bluff, right here in front of us.
God, help us sing, and give us hope.
Even on days where Christ himself seems the only reason remaining.
And may we always,
when we turn to you,
speak of trees.