Eight out of ten for a National Treasure


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.