Way back: thoughts from 2003, written for a United Reformed Church Project

Many of the problems we envisage are about how to do the same things in a different way, rather than do something different.   It seems this was on my mind, when I was asked to write this for the URC some years ago. The picture was taken a year after the piece was written, and not in a crowded city street!  We now have concerns about plastic in hospitality packaging, and of course, the Carbon Footprint of our churches and homes.  But I’ll leave the text as it was when I wrote it.

I rode through the centre of Glasgow around 5pm. My young son was on the back of the bike, and we gently free-wheeled to the front of the queue of revving, grumbling  traffic. We had had a good day out. But the faces of the drivers told a different story. Every other vehicle had many times the power at their disposal, but we would not get back home much later, and we would have the benefit of more exercise – with the uplift to spirits that that involves –  and less stress. And in the meantime less pollution, less wear and tear on the roads. Last of all, it probably cost us less money.  Or is that last of all; for now, we only see dimly the final cost of our lifestyle. (cf 1 Cor 13:12) A time may come, when it catches up with us. Or is it just that we aren’t looking at what is staring us in the face. Do we really have any excuse, or are we so ground down by the business of 24/7 that the God whose work was not complete without a day off (Genesis 2:2-4) is redundant?  We are used to assessing things in economic terms. And yet our lives involve many currencies: spiritual, physical, emotional, environmental. 

If we only ever measure with common standards, there is little prospect of our being motivated to change. Or getting round to it. A car goes faster, usually keeps the rain off, is more prestigious than a bike, there is carrying capacity, and of course horsepower. But a bike is a bike, rather than a grossly inferior car. And we probably arrived home happier and healthier  than the driver of the Porsche we left behind at the traffic lights. (cf Matthew 6:27). Not that I want to go back to walking everywhere. Not that I think it would be wise to refuse the medical care that took my wife through cancer two months ago.  It is just that the way ahead may involve a turning now and then. God never turns back. (cf Job 42, 10ff: a happy ending, but what is lost stays lost!). And Jesus rises to new life, rather than coming back to the way things were. Luddites don’t gain spiritual brownie-points.

It’s like that with organic and fairly-traded food. A few pence more in the narrow view.  But when Christian Aid and others open your eyes, to the cost of fleecing your neighbours,  disrupting and destabilising economies. What you can see – or all you are prepared to see – can easily block out what distance and packaging  obscure. What integrity is there in the hospitality of a church which welcomes visitors with coffee subsidised by the labour of the poor?  Isn’t it easier just to feel good that you have put a pound in a shaken tin than to change your shopping habits? Easier. But not necessarily cheaper. What is the true cost of looking your neighbour in the face when you have berayed her? What would you pay to avoid that? 

 In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus never stops talking about money. Nor, by implication, the many other currencies of life.  Talk of judgement is a reminder, in time we hope (cf Luke 16:19ff) of the cost of “saving”.  And healing, when it happens, is often at the cost of healthy onlookers.(Try Mark 2: 1-12). That’s not fair. But it is God  we try to worship, not the fairness of the privileged. Which is a long way from God’s justice-as-acknowledgement of need. 

What would Jesus say when we complain about taxes or fair trade prices  that pay for medical care and education? – how often might it be “Tough!”?

And we have other neighbours. Not just the human ones. Early British Christians were alive to the “communion of Creation” – that God’s promise in the rainbow (Genesis 9:12-17) was to “all flesh”. The earth, the air, the water are kin to us, for that is what we are made of, both in biblical and scientific ways of seeing.   Humanity’s purpose is to care like a hired shepherd for God’s garden; to befriend every creature ( Genesis 2:19-20) and uncover their particular potential for fellowship and the enrichment of life. Not just friendship in a human-human sense, but ways of living that acknowledge birth death and pain that we share.

 And the “redemption” ( what do you really think that means?)  in which Christians may be caught up is not of some distant wafty-floaty world, we are to escape to but of the same creation we are inescapably part of (cf Romans 8:19).

But for now we don’t see it. We don’t get round to it. We regret it. We are sorry. But what use is being sorry? (Some people just like being sorry!)

The first call of John the Baptist and Jesus was not to be sorry. 

But simply to change your mind. 

All else follows.

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