Picture: my son's picture of the traveller and the Samaritan, as dinosaurs.
The Biblical insight that God is Creator belongs inseparably with the certainty of God’s will for justice, seen as the acknowledgment of need.
Christian Aid and SCIAF have always ( or in living memory) rightly seen the link between the abuse of the environment and material poverty.
They, together with the Pope, and many other significant voices in Christianity will not permit the sort of environmentalism which is a cosy preoccupation of the rich and privileged.
If we talk of climate crisis, climate justice: attention to the disproportionate impact on those who themselves cause the least disruption, must needs be in the same breath. Without the luxury of a full stop.
‘Who is my neighbour?’ was the question put to Jesus by ‘an expert in the law’, “wanting to justify himself”.
This led on, of course, to that staple of the hit-and-run visiting preacher, the story of the Good Samaritan’.
In this story, the life of the traveller from the hearer’s own community is saved by the generous intervention of someone with whom no relationship or friendship would decently be thought possible.
That’s the way with bigotry and sectarianism: it can be genteel as well as thuggish. The ‘demon’ involved aims to block the view from one person to another; from one creature to another. To deny rights, gifts and value. This can appear benign: the “proper care” of “things and objects” . Alongside which, the always-learned mechanism of disgust is such a potent weapon.
The Victorian maxim ran that ‘cleanliness is next to godliness’. In our day, godliness doesn’t even come a poor second. EcoCongregation is a movement in which spirituality can again come to the fore without ‘needing to justify itself’
As the complicated fight to reduce pesticides that kill pollinating insects has shown, our still very arbitrary ideas of order, tidiness, control, may have precious little to do with biological safety or even the eventual value of the measures we feel pushed into.
To allow a wildflower strip in a field of cultivated crops, or garden flowers, requires a widespread change of attitudes to ‘weeds’, and even to profit.
It may involve cost and inconvenience, to start with, which outsiders may not appreciate, leading to the abandonment of those at the sharp end to face these challenges. Or blaming.
Transition needs to be just.
But it ultimately also requires a relationship prohibited by those who want to maximise sales of pesticides. And a relationship with mutuality, which can only be fully appreciated when we see, in living things, not just a tool, but a partner; not just a thing, but a person, a soul, a fellow creature and participant in God’s Covenant with ‘all flesh’.
Just for once, try to allow that God is great enough not to reduce these references to our own species alone.
The language does exist in Hebrew and Greek, to say ‘people’, if that really was all that was meant. Play the game of imagining that Creation was included on purpose.
Within the context of the ‘Good Samaritan’ story; for the most devout of the first community, even to be touched in caring by the second would feel unclean. In order to survive, the traveller had to consent (or found, perhaps to their disgust that they had presumed consent) to receiving hospitality, generosity and kindness.
Tellingly, Jesus leaves it to us to wonder what happened next. Did the traveller sneak back to the life they had known before, not upsetting any applecarts, rocking boats. Or was their conscience also healed along with their body? Would the Judean traveller even think twice before snubbing the next Samaritan to cross their path?
In conversation with leaders in various denominations and faith groups, it seems time to look at our religious language: do we sing and pray in such a way that we impoverish the nourishing relationship evident to science and faith?
Do we exclude from the choir the voice of ( our nrighbour) the Earth?
And in churches where liturgy is tightly controlled, how is that voice being heard?
This goes very deep. I do invite you to look (online helps make this much easier than you might think ) even at the ‘Old Hundredth’. ‘All people [sic] that on earth do dwell’.
There is so much more. So much so, that I’m suggesting, that the many exceptions, which you will also no doubt discover, will not be sufficient to dismiss our need for a new relationship of faithfulness in our appreciation of the treasures of Scripture.
Perhaps I can return for inspiration to Charles Darwin, for whom the voice of the rainforest, in his travels, was a profound spiritual experience unlike his theological studies. Deeply conscious that his theories, being based on observation of nature, would initially lack evidence to be 100% watertight, he wrote of how
“a crowd of difficulties will have occurred to the reader. Some of them are so grave that to this day I can never reflect on them without being staggered; but, to the best of my judgment, the greater number are only apparent, and those that are real are not, I think, fatal to my theory.”
I began by talking about the unshakeable connection between a spirituality acknowledging God as Creator and our motivation to fight poverty and seek justice. Guess what! This is about you!
Our human world is wounded. Our spirituality is impoverished. In some places, the description ‘half dead’ might be an understatement. And I recall in the internship year of my training, how I lived in the most multiply deprived housing scheme in South Wales. The ecumenical church in the centre of the community was therefore an attempt to foster dignity and value. Which it still does, with the total dedication of its workers.
It was a difficult time in many ways, but one of the tragedies for folk living in that pocket of poverty in the hills of the Rhondda, was that, surrounded by the green beauty of the hills, by farm land, and much that could have been spiritually refreshing, people seemed to have little relationship with it. Looking in, not out. When I took a group of young people to Iona, though they came from a rural area, they were terrified to be in proximity to farm animals.
Can we grasp the spiritual gifts of Scripture as transformative resources for the struggle we know is ahead of us? To enrich our own poverty; our starvation of a give and take relationship of Christian neighbourliness with creatures and a planet we have been brought up to see as "things and objects". This new relationship is a foundation on which our commitment to action and activism can be built. Acknowledge your need. Drink deeply of the healing that nature has to offer. Immerse yourself in something green and fall in love with it.
Don’t be afraid to be nourished, because no one, and no church, has the wealth or resources, on their own, to encounter the challenge of our day.
For that we need Christ, and Christ’s friends.