Words on the Way- Creation Time is here and now

The group photo for the Nations Climate Sunday Service in Glasgow

Creation Time/Season of Creation is well under way: we’re hearing reports of congregations using the material, including the major video reflections in sermon-slots, in Scotland and further afield.  

It’s very difficult to measure the impact, so any messages about what people are doing, and indeed any requests for help – such as supplying an MP4 file of a video from YouTube – are most welcome.  Then we know that one of the ‘hits’ one the site represents  contact with a whole congregation.

We’re also still reflecting on material that has been posted, and in some cases adjusting it when we notice what could be better:  it’s that exciting!

But I’m also, in the process, becoming aware of the challenge still  posed by the church cultures we’re working with, in terms of evolving an environmentally aware approach to scripture and tradition.  Two years ago,  I put a search thread on ‘climate’ into the Bible Society’s website, and it returned “no results”.  I did so again today, with the same outcome.  

How many churches view environment as an “issue”  rather than the overall context in which we do all our theology,  and in which we offer all our praise?

Online conversations with colleagues make it clear that small nuances – such as the presentation of Genesis 218ff in the NIV, which dares to depart from a consensus which otherwise permitted the idea that  all other life was created from scratch for the benefit of ‘Adam’ –  may not stand out as significant if you’re not constantly interrogating scripture with a green tooth-comb.   Or you might dismiss the NIV approach as an aberration designed to force the two, parallel, Creation stories into a consecutive ‘historical’ narrative.   Fair enough.  For me, it is sufficient that we emerge with greater respect for fellow creatures if we’re not forced to see their  creation as serving a human purpose.  The variety of translations now easily accessible online allows discernment beyond the Babylonian captivity  of  the ‘pew bible’.

Relatively  few in the churches acknowledge,  as a matter of course,  that we all approach our relationship with the Bible with layers of slant and prejudice. That’s not  a criticism, but a liberating awareness.   Just as, with planting  trees, the right tree in the right place makes a huge difference, and even the right mode of sustainable power in the right place,  there’s  another question. 

And I’m delighted today to see the joint statement from  Pope Francis,  Archishop Justin Welby and Patriarch Bartholemew, presenting the Earth as someone  who can cry out, rather than an inert object.  https://climatenewsnetwork.net/earths-future-hinges-on-un-glasgow-climate-talks/ .  The more, the merrier!  It makes the job of a humble environmental chaplain that much easier!

What is the right sort of slant for here and now?  And it does set us free from the dominating aspiration to definitiveness of the white, western and largely male and anthropocentric  presentation of the church which held sway for several generations, sometimes reinforced by theological rank being pulled.    The critique of anthropocentricism by no less than the Pope, in Laudato Si,  has been a gift to all the churches.  I bless every bishop, lecturer, district chair, or moderator who stands up to be counted in this awareness.  

Being part of  a meeting shaping a denominational environmental policy  last month was quite  encouraging:  leaving behind the deceptively comfortable language of “stewardship” – which presents creation as property to be guarded, rather than life with which to partner – and taking care to avoid calling a living Creation “it”.

In terms of use of language, it was also a great relief that the version of the Genesis 1 Creation story chosen for the Nations Climate Sunday service in Glasgow was The Message, which rightly talks of ‘human beings’ for ‘Adam’  and notes ‘responsiblity’ as the key to any ruling or managerial role to which our species may be called.  I was also particularly  pleased to note that ‘sky’  was used rather than ‘heaven’.

But even more, it’s clear we need to work towards a new relationship between scholars and preachers (yes, they often are  the same person, bu stick with it!). At least in my own tradition, the work done in forensically investigating the possible meanings and the ‘Sitz im Leben’ – the context in which a text, or object, has been created, and its function and purpose at that time, is highly respected, and is the foundation for creative and inspired interpretation. This indispensable work  gives us the word from which we wrestle the Word, though even the best translation is a very long way from, and no substitute for,  an inspired and creative  response to the question of what the Spirit is saying the the churches today.