To whom am I neighbour?

Giant puppets: ‘Storm’ – spirit of the Oceans , meets ‘Little Amal’ – a refugee child from Syria, in Glasgow today

To whom am I neighbour?

There may have been a time when Christian committed to social justice tended to drift away from deeper involvement in the core of our faith. 

Such a time is now long  gone.  Now it’s entirely the opposite.  The climate crisis calls the bluff of every part of every faith tradition, and COP has brought us wonderfully closer in purpose – and without compromise –  the other faith groups with whom we shared prayer and campaigning  statements on the Sunday before the conference got going. 

 Yesterday was the ‘gender’ themed day in the UN Climate Conference , when all the undeniable scientific and statistical evidence was there in your face that the marginalisation, exclusion and condescension to women, children, and the indigenous peoples of the Earth who live close to God’s Creation, is a dire and manifest liability.  Injustice – as the prophets prayed and hoped – always does come back to bite the unjust in the bum.  The well-meaning  suspicion that the empowerment and education of women was a climate plus is now well-established.

There is also a place for prayers such as Psalm 25:2  (pulling no punches)

Let none who look to you be put to shame;
let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes.

The schemes of those  who betray Creation,  need,  in the deepest love, to be frustrated.  And the expensive greenwashing which is also on show here,  does begin to look quite ridiculous.  All of it is called out, all the time, in the presentations in the pavilions of the nations and NGOs

There are a number  of get-used-to-it tipping points ahead for those of us in the  ( British.. Scottish…) churches who might be squeamish, both about anything that ‘looks political’ or which is labelled ‘feminist’ . 

The UN is taking the empowerment and education of women and girls with an unprecedented seriousness, which does not allow for the separation of climate justice and gender justice.  A concern with inclusion in language and other modes of the expression is the churches is no longer – if it ever was- a fad or a marginal matter. The Good News is for all.  All Creation and All People, without reservation.   Can we say we are praising God if we restrict membership of the choir?

In the same sort of way, all the missing jigsaw pieces are being found under the sofa —  whales were once seen simply as a mineral resource.  It helped that some recognised their beauty, majesty.   Science is now adding, with authority, how indispensable is their place in the cycles of carbon and oxygen.  To hound a species to extinction is, objectively, to hasten our own.  

But beauty alone  should be more than enough. Please don’t forget that.  it’s just that the ‘economic’ counter-arguments are falling apart.

So blessing is to be sought in solidarity with and creative listening to those for whom  the most consistent message of my ministry as chaplain   – that the Earth is not ‘it’ but ‘who’ –  is not only “nothing new”,  but  self-explanatory.  

Indeed, the strongest terms in which I have ever expressed that treasure of our faith,  have this week begin to look decidedly half-hearted. 

And this chastening comes more often than not, not from elders and hoary old COP regulars, but young indigenous women, who, without artifice, take your breath away.

“We are not “part “ of nature. We ARE nature”

“I was writing a job application,  and spoke in it of  my animal relatives.  My father became terribly anxious and said “you must never dare tell that truth to the others: they will  make you suffer for it” 

And when asked to introduce themselves, they did so in terms of the animals that breed or the fish  that migrate in the places which their families may  never professed to “own” in terms of title deeds, but where they have come to know and claim the right to what ‘home’ may mean. 

Others introduce themselves in ways which inadvertently challenge the things we might not see as necessary to such a ritual.  “I’m black and wear glasses”.   Would I say , in the first sentence “I’m white ..” But if not, why not?

None of this would be foreign to the writers of most of our scriptures.  Remember that the habitats of animals are gifted by God  to them every bit as much as the same lands may be ‘given’ to a people. The sea is not the sea without the fish, nor are the heavens the heavens without the birds.

A couple of evenings ago, Christian Aid ‘and friends ‘ led an inspiring and theologically distinguished service in Glasgow Cathedral.  Black theologian and Climate Professor Robert Beckford ( whom I did not recognise as when I’d last heard of him,  he had dreadlocks, but we’ve both lost a bit of hair since then) likewise emphasised the sense of connectedness which he finds in black spirituality,  the responsibility that this conveys, the experiential grounding of scripture and more.  He called that ‘Pentecostalism’ . I began to wonder if I’m a Pentecostalist!.   (And that from a “ Professor of Climate and Social Justice at University of Winchester”). 

But I am who I am:  and the blessings of hearing from these people what is is to be them is only affirming  rather than undermining or paralysing in post-colonial guilt.  To the African theologian who, attending a conference some years ago ( because European Christians  at that time had always to invite an African and sing a few African songs in order to convince themselves that what they were hoping was worthwhile)  .. who  said “The Holy Spirit cannot move at two degrees Celsius “   I  had to reply  that “She can and she does!”. 

But where are we starting from?  

In contrast to those who happily identify themselves as ‘indigenous’  I am – as a white,  western, male ,straight, middle-aged reformed Christian – rather ‘alienated” from the relationship with Creation which Christianity is well capable of fostering, let alone permitting.  

Alienated….. not eternally separated.

 Even despite the cultural and spiritual ravages of the industrial revolution, the Enlightenment, late capitalism, oppressive consumerism  and colonialism, all of which demonically predispose my culture to treat the other as a thing, an it, rather than a who, the relationship as flesh with flesh in the rainbow covenant is my birthright as a human being, reinforced and repurposed through our kinship with Christ.    And although I can and must listen to and learn from your sisters and brothers in Christ in a different mode of that relationship,  it’s right,  faithfully and humbly, to seek to reclaim (recycle, repurpose)  that relationship as my own.  Joyfully to rewild, as it were, what it means to be Christians when and where we are.  I don’t need to be from the Pacific or the Arctic, to be Christian,  though I can certainly learn from them . And the day may come when they learn from me. But that’s for them to say.

I know our churches have come some distance in this  time of crisis which is also a time of spiritual healing.  Great.   That’s what we now need, with the greatest urgency to build on.

Our friend James Baghwan from the Pacific Council of Churches, who has been one of the most prominent and visible Christians in this COP,  has pointed out how the traditions and spirituality of his own people are not in conflict, but enhanced by Christianity.  

Ours, can I suggest, have been cowed and manipulated by other forces, but since you’re reading this, not wounded beyond healing.  

 And for those who a couple of weeks ago made a big fuss about ‘Christ Crucified’  as opposed to ‘climate change’ – what world is it that God so loved that God gave Godself in the one we call Jesus, incarnate in the Earth,  made available to all in the risen Christ?  

What is church for?  

And for whom was Christ both crucified and risen?

…..but now, as COP nears its end,  we’ve got Advent on the way:  all those wonderful seasonal spiritual resources to help us in encountering the threats of our time.  use them well!