Twelve Steps Towards Freedom – Rewilding with Jesus

This post by Dave Gregory was originally published at Seventy Two

I like a bit of wildness!  I wonder what image that conjures up in your mind?  Coming into my 60th year, perhaps of an aging rocker doing air guitar while head banging to loud music!  But while rock music is part of my eclectic musical tastes, that’s not what I mean.  I mean wild nature.

As we edge towards the end of another lock down, perhaps like many, you have enjoyed being outside, although with the cold and wet weather of winter that has been more of a challenge than last spring when we had our first lockdown.  Many people have appreciated the natural world more over the past year, whether it be your garden, a local park or walking along local footpaths into the countryside wherever you live.

Different things in creation appeal to different people.  For some its bird spotting.  For others, its wildflowers or trees, or the wild animals that you might catch a glimpse of scampering through the hedgerows and woods, trying to escape your gaze.  For me, it’s wild places and wild landscapes.

I’m on sabbatical at the moment.  I had hoped to take some time walking a long-distance footpath, but lockdown has restricted me to some local walks out into the Hertfordshire countryside.  Very pleasant and refreshing, but you wouldn’t call it wild.  Very tame in fact.  Lots of farms, stables, and grassy field for grazing, although I am a still wary when I cross a field with cows in.  My mind keeps drifting back to my last sabbatical in 2013 when I walked St Oswald’s Way in Northumbria, from Lindisfarne to Heavensfield on Hadrian’s Wall.  There was wild coastline, wild moors and even some wild cows!!

Wilderness and wildness are not always comfortable places.  I remember walking alone through a particularly dark forest in Northumbria on a very damp day looking for a place to stop for lunch.  Having found a sheltered place with a few rocks to sit on, I decided against it.  It felt dark and oppressive and I moved on to a more open, lighter if wetter spot to take a break.  And another time, walking across the flat, featureless moors of Kinder Scout in the Peak District, becoming edgy as the path petered out and deciding to return to the security of the well-defined path around the edge.

Perhaps at the heart on the unfolding climate and environmental crisis is that we are not comfortable with wilderness and wildness.  We like to tame the world, reshaping it to our needs and security.  Wild places are disappearing.  Back in 2013, I visited BMS worker Laura-Lee Lovering who lives in the small town of Nauta in the Peruvian Amazon where BMS has a mission centre.  Looking in the forest one day she commented that local people preferred the ordered cultivated land to the wild jungle.  But that ordering and taming has an impact.  This week, I read on the BBC that half of UK wildlife has decreased over the past 50 years and their habitats have been squeezed by modern life.

This uncomfortableness with wildness is found in the Bible.  Richard Bauckham in “Bible and Ecology” suggests the Bible distinguishes between two different types of land – cultivated and wild places.  Places of security and places that are dangerous and full of threat, unfit for human habitation.  No wonder we want to tame them.  Yet, as we remember during the season of Lent, Jesus spent time in the wilderness;

“he was in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals.”  (Mk 1v13)

Jesus faced threats in the wilderness.  From Satan and his temptations, perhaps all about finding security and taming the wildness of God’s purpose for Jesus.  Do we face the same temptations today in our drive for security today?  Taming the wilderness so it fits our needs and lives.  Yet, in doing so, we ignore that this is a part of creation that God makes for the wild animals.  Many of the drugs that we use to treat disease such as COVID come from extracts of plants that are found in wild areas like the Amazon.  Cutting down the rainforests may seem to bring security now, but what might we lose that will bring us security later in the face of new threats such as COVID.  There are even suggestions that COVID skipped from wild animals to humans because we increasingly encroach on wild areas.

In the wilderness, Jesus was “with the wild animals”, but I wonder if he was threatened by them?   Or does this express the freedom that God in Jesus wants to bring between the whole community of creation, between human and non-human?  Freedom that Isaiah speaks of as he looks for God’s future where;

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.

They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.  (Isa 11v6-9)

What knowledge might we learn from Jesus being “with the wild animals”?  And how can we put it into practice?  That will depend upon where you live, or where your church building is placed.  Many people put out food for the wild birds in the gardens.  Perhaps you could sow some seeds that will attract butterflies.  Or make a simple “bee house” for your own or church garden to encourage these insects that play such an important role in sustaining plants that we rely on for food.  If your church has land or a graveyard, how might you manage it to provide a home for wild animals.  Or you could ask questions about new housing developments locally; how they might provide a home for wild nature as well as people.  Maybe there are conservation projects you could support locally or further afield – check out the BMS World Mission Carbon Offsetting tool that supports tree planting projects in Northern Uganda.

This Lent, take time to rewild yourself!  Spend time with Jesus in the wilderness, with the wild animals.  Take a walk around your garden, in the park or out into the countryside.  As you go, you could pray this prayer – it’s also available on the Baptist Union Environment Network (BUEN) YouTube channel – seeking God’s peace for the whole of his community of creation.

A Prayer for Lent – Wilderness and Wildness

Jesus, we are not comfortable with wilderness;

it’s wildness; its otherness beyond human imagining.

We seek order, control, taming it to fit our imagination, needs, our security.

 

Yet, you were in the wilderness.

Lord of all things in heaven and earth,

In whom, through whom, for whom all things were created;

Tempted by, yet overcoming our fear of the wilderness and

wildness of God.

 

Jesus, we are not comfortable with the wild animals.

We cage them behind bars or within documentaries;

Push them to the margins by our urban life,

trapped in ever decreasing wild reserves.

 

Yet, you were with the wild animals.

The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,

yet not its wildness, lying with the wolf;

Living the harmony of the community of creation

that God brings through you.

 

Jesus, of the wilderness and

the wild, tame our fears;

May we be made anew,

in you, through you, and for you,

seeking God’s shalom between the

whole community of creation.

Amen

 

This blog is part of a series from Dave Gregory. To see previous blogs in the series, please click here.

The post Twelve Steps Towards Freedom – Rewilding with Jesus appeared first on Seventy Two.

Twelve Steps Towards Freedom: Live

This post by Dave Gregory was originally published at Seventy Two

He sat down in front of the young adult group one Sunday evening.  An Australian whom our minister had got to know.  Let’s say his name was Roger.  “Hello”, he began, “my name is Roger, I am a Christian and I am alcoholic”.  To the ears of a very naive young Christian in their early twenties (nowadays that would make me a Millennial) that seemed odd.  It got my attention.  But the combination of those two things – Christian and addict – didn’t seem to fit.  But over the next hour or so, Roger unpacked with some honesty his journey into addiction and faith.  It opened my eyes.  That for Roger, each day was a battle to find freedom.  The desire of the addict was never fully going away.  But each day he stayed off the bottle was a victory, one that he asked Jesus to give him, one more step towards freedom.

I don’t know if you have been following each of the twelve steps as we have journeyed towards freedom.  Freedom from our addiction to fossil fuels that are driving climate change and rubbishing our environment.  Towards freedom for the natural world that God’s redemptive heart is to “liberate from its bondage to decay” (Rom 8v21).  A journey recognising our powerlessness and seeking a deeper conversion to God’s purpose.  Going deeper than “greenwash”, confessing our climate sins and being ready and willing to change.  Listening to the voice of so many vulnerable people around the world facing both a COVID and climate emergency just as acute.  Willing to take practical steps to mitigate the impact of our lives on theirs and the life of the natural world, whose myriad forms of life face extinction at one hundred times the natural rate.  And not just for a moment, but to endure in a new way of living as disciples that shares God heart for his good creation.  Goodness perhaps you have increasingly been aware of through lockdown and over the summer as we have enjoyed more time outdoors.  I’ve taken to sitting in the garden over the summer for my daily prayer time reflecting upon what its plants and wildlife, and the wideness of the sky teach me about God, sensing the divine presence.

But this journey is not about ticking off the steps.  Nor does it end here.  Looking ahead, these steps need to inspire us to a new season of renewal in how we live as disciples.  I guess this is one difference from the journey to being addicted to alcohol and being addicted to climate changing fossil fuels.  With alcohol, the only solution is to stop using it and engaging in a daily battle for freedom.  Our addition to fossil fuels is more difficult to deal with.  Having shared this journey, have you stopped using fossil fuels?  Not by a long shot!  On the day I write this on September the 12th 2020, Carbon Dioxide makes up 411 parts per million of the atmosphere.  A year ago, it was 408 parts per million.  The global COVID lockdown has had little impact.  We are all trapped in this addiction because our lives are embedded in a global economic structure reliant on fossil fuels that seems beyond our control.  Already one degree warmer than 200 years ago, the Earth will warm by up to 4 degrees by the end of the century if nothing is done, when even the Gen Z’s will be old never mind the Millennials!

Perhaps you know all this.  But has it brought spiritual awakening?  The last of the twelve steps is Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”  So, how are you going to do that?  Is your spiritual wakening to climate change enough to make you think how to include the issue in your ministry as a leader?  To encourage the church to take it up on their agenda.  To let it reshape your sharing the gospel, and joining with God’s mission to your neighbourhood and the whole Earth?

Perhaps you are already doing this.  A lone voice struggling to heard among all the other demands that face us as Christians and churches.  Seeking growth to stem continual decline.  Reaching out to Millennials.  Pioneering.  Speaking up for economic and racial justice.  It can be hard to keep on alone.  It can be hard to be released from addition and when you don’t have others to support you.  That why the Twelve Step programme of AA and other groups is worked out in community.

At the start of September, to coincide with Climate Sunday, BUEN was launched.  The Baptist Union Environment Network.  Gathering people across the Baptist Together family who share a concern for God’s “buen” – good – creation, over climate change and the environment.  Connecting within our Associations people who want to share their concern and passion to inspire others.  To share in God’s mission to care for creation.  Enabling Baptists Together to work for justice for creation and people impacted by environmental change.  And releasing and listening to the voice of children, Gen Z and Millennials whose future world is being shaped by our lives today.

A community of people, seeking to be free from addiction.  Supporting and encouraging one another, sharing the invitation to share in God’s mission to care and redeem creation with others.  You can discover more and how people and churches are already responding on the BUEN Facebook page, on Twitter and in the Baptist Union website – http://www.baptist.org.uk/BUEN .  Or you can read about in the latest Baptist Together magazine.  To get involved, you can email BUEN at BUEnvNet@outlook.com .

This year is an important one for responding to climate change.  In just over a years’ time, the UN Climate Conference will convene in Glasgow.  It’s vital that the nations of the world accelerate their response.  We need a 4-degree shift in the way our global society works if we are to counter a 4-degree shift in our climate.  And if we are going to play our part, raise up a shared prophetic voice, we need a 4-degree shift in our discipleship too.  It’s going to take a while, but we don’t have long.  Finding freedom from this addiction is urgent.  The world is already 1-degree warmer, and we and creation are feeling the impact of that.  We need to begin a journey of 1 degree shifts in our discipleship to bring us towards loving creation as God does, will all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  A daily battle towards freedom.

And despite all the doom and gloom that we hear about climate change, there is hope.  Remember the power of the butterfly.  Something I learnt as a meteorologist.  It’s the way the weather and climate works.  A butterfly can flap its wings over South America, and 5 days later you can have a tornado in Texas.  Small things matter.  Didn’t Jesus say something similar.  Yes, I think he did.

“‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.’”  (Matt 13v31-32)

This blog is the final part of a series of 12 from Dave Gregory. To see previous blogs in the series, please click here.

 

 

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Twelve Steps Towards Freedom: Presence

This post by Dave Gregory was originally published at Seventy Two

I’ve always found the Bible a bit odd.  I mean, the beginning and the end.  No, not the kind of questions it raises when placed aside the story of the cosmos told by science.  I always found it odd in that it starts with a story of a garden.  And ends with a story of a city.  From the Garden of Eden to the New Jerusalem.  I mean, when we are thinking about caring for creation, wouldn’t it have been better to end up the image of a garden as a symbol of a new heaven and new earth?

I guess that it captures the flow of human culture through the ages.  From scattered groups living off their surroundings, through the discovery of agriculture and the beginnings of urbanisation.  Through to today when over half of the worlds eight billion people – expected to rise to nearly 70% by 2050 – live in sprawling, often chaotic cities leaving a huge imprint on the environment and climate of the planet.  Not quite New Jerusalem.

Yet while the garden and city seem polar opposites, look again and you will see similarities.  In the twentieth century there was a trend towards green cities.  The “Garden City” project before the Second World War.  While the post-war new city of Milton Keynes, renowned for its roundabouts and grid-roads has one million trees planted within its bounds.  Looking down on the city from the north, one can hardly see any buildings.  Looking to the future, we are going to have to green our cities, attempting to tackle local and global environmental issues as well as making then good places to live in.

New Jerusalem is a garden city.  Like Eden, there is a river flowing from it – “a river of the water of life as clear as crystal flowing … down the middle of the great street of the city”   (Rev 22v1).  On each bank stands “the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit”  (Rev 22v2).  And in both Eden and New Jerusalem there is no church or temple.  Yet, the presence of God is within them.  In Eden, God is described as “walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Gen 3v8).  While in New Jerusalem, “the Lord God almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Rev 21v22).  However you look at these images, whether through the lens of rational literalism or metaphorical imagination, they both speak of the presence of God seeking encounter.

While we know that church is not the buildings, buildings often shape our community.  They are the places where we gather, know one another, worship together, celebrate significant moments.  Places where, however utilitarian they look, are the places where God is sought and encountered.  With COVID-19 this has paused in the expression of our faith.  And with the need to keep them COVID secure, looking ahead when we do begin to gather, numbers will be limited, and worship will have a hugely different feel.  Perhaps it is time to discover and respond to the presence of God in new ways.

The penultimate step of “Twelve Steps Towards Freedom” is again not about our actions.  It is about becoming more aware of the presence of God in our lives.  That we seek “through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God … praying only for the knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.”  This bears a striking similarity to Paul’s prayer in his letters to the young churches of the New Testament era, for example that in Ephesians. 

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.  I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you” (Eph 1v17,18)

For if we are to make a difference to the environmental issues that our world and its people face, it will take more than an awareness of the issues and of carbon budgets or recycling.  We need a change of heart that comes from an encounter with God.  The God who makes, sustains and cares for creation.  If our relationship with God is to develop a focus upon our relationship with creation, then perhaps it is time we left our buildings behind and took time to seek the presence of God within the world of creation.

So, with our buildings closed for the most part, and our activities suspended through much of the summer, why not take some time to see God – the God of creation – within creation.  In your garden, on a walk, in the park.  Whether your setting is rural or urban, God is there and be found through what he has created.  Of course, this thought is not new is it?  Celtic and Franciscan spiritual insights draw greatly from creation.   Seven hundred years ago, in the thirteenth century, the Franciscan Bonaventure encouraged people to glimpse within nature signs of God’s presence and action.  God’s power in the sheer fact that things exist.  God’s desire for relationship with creation in the exuberant creativity of its wide-ranging diversity.  And God’s love in seeing how things relate to one another, working together for God’s good purpose.

So, while we are still not yet fully returned to our buildings, take some time outside this summer seeking the presence of God.  And there, look at whatever vista is before you.  Take in the whole scene.  What does it say about God’s power?  How does this sense of God at work in creation before you, empower you to share in caring for creation?  Don’t rush this.  Take your time.  If you feel powerless before the immensity of it all, then ask him to empower your imagination over what might be possible.  Not necessarily something big.  Remember the mustard seed of Jesus parable.  “Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” (Matt 13v31)

Now, focus upon one particular thing that you see.  Perhaps, the one thing that specially stands out to you.  Take time to look at it.  And then look again.  Look through God’s eyes.  What does he value in what you see?  What does he rejoice over in it?  Let God’s rejoicing feed your appreciation of all that God has made.  Let that rejoicing feed your own desire to share with the creator in his pleasure over creation.

Next, take time to notice how the thing you have fixed your attention on is connected to other things around it.  Insects to flowers.  Trees to air and soil through leaves and roots.  The shaped of hill to rain and the power of flowing water.  The waves on the sea, driven by the streams of air.  How do such things express God’s love and care for creation?  What do they say about his care for you?  About his gift to life to you?  “See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these” (Matt 7v28,29).  Draw upon this gift.  Allow it to cement your desire to share in God’s care of creation.

And discovering new connection with God.  Having a new appreciation of God’s will, ask for God’s power to live that out.  That ahead, whether in garden or building, you grow in being a missional disciple sharing with God his mission to care for creation.


This blog is part of a series from Dave Gregory. To see previous blogs in the series, please click here.

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Twelve Steps Towards Freedom: Endure

This post by Dave Gregory was originally published at Seventy Two

I was supposed to be on sabbatical till the end of this month.  But the restrictions on travel as well as the pastoral and missional demands of the COVID-19 lockdown has meant it rightly needed to be delayed.  No, I’m not asking for sympathy.  As God reminded me a few days ago, waiting can be a part of his plan.  My last sabbatical was delayed two years!  And it proved to shape my life and ministry over the past seven years in a way that probably wouldn’t have been the case if it had happened according to schedule.

This previous sabbatical was rather full but wonderfully refreshing!  Ending with a journey to Peru with BMS World Mission with Carolyn to visit Laura Lee-Lovering who works in Nauta on the banks of the Amazon in environmental mission.  Beginning with another journey, a 100 mile walk along St Oswald’s Way.  Down the Northumbria coast from Lindisfarne, via the Northumbria Community, to Heavensfield on Hadrian’s Wall.

On that walk I was accompanied by Eugene Peterson.  Well not literally.  But each day I read and journaled a chapter in his book “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction”.  A series of reflections on the Psalms of Ascent.  Beginning with the line “I call upon the Lord in my distress and he answers me” (Psalm 120v1).  Ending with the last verse of Psalm 134; “May the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth, bless you from Zion”.  Songs sung by pilgrims approaching Jerusalem for the Passover festival, remembering God’s act of redemption of freeing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  A suitable companion to accompany my pilgrimage.

A suitable companion for these days too?  These last months of the COVID-19 lockdown might be described as a “Long Obedience in the Same Direction”.  We have all needed to endure in restricting our movements and social contacts among other things as we have played our part in bringing the infection rate down.  Many things have been delayed.  The launch of BUEN – the Baptist Union Environmental Network – but be assured it is still coming!  And delay in life while painful and uncertain has brought benefits.  As I mentioned before there has been improvement in the natural world around us, which the beautiful weather has brought even more to our notice.

But if we are to continue to enjoy this.  If we are to join with sharing in the mission of God who is the “the maker of heaven and earth”, we will need “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction” to be the DNA of our discipleship and church life.  Our concern for the environment and the impacts of climate change upon people’s lives cannot be for a season.  It must be embedded into our individual, corporate and national life as followers of Jesus.

You see, we tend to have short memories.  While we may have enjoyed creation over the past months, how much of what we have experienced will stay with us in the longer term?  How much will be lost when life returns to normal?  Last Saturday night, I watched a film on Netflix – “Like Father”.  I won’t spoil the plot, too much.  Essentially a father and daughter find healing, redemption, perhaps even forgiveness on an accidental cruise they share together.  But at the end as they prepare to leave, the daughter back tracks on her promise to come and visit.  “This is vacation, you know, and I have to get back to real life?”.

“A Long Obedience in the Same Direction” is not just for lockdown.  Nor just for a long sabbatical walk.  It’s for life.  All the years of our life.  Every area of our lives.  Didn’t Paul say run the race “in such a way as to get the prize”  (1 Cor 9v24).  And “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me … straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal”  (Phil 3v12-14, part).  Caring for creation will require a marathon not a sprint.  And strangely is you are going to win in this race, you need to keep going back to the starting line.

The tenth step towards freedom is that we “continue to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it”.  And that takes us back to the fourth step last December when we were challenged to “make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”  I said then that was a hard call to dig deep.  Now we need to keep on digging.  But this return to the starting line is not a sign of our failure.  No, it arises from a desire for more of God’s life.  Of wanting more to keep in step with God’s mission to sustain and redeem creation.  We need to engage in the spiritual practice of Examen – Environmental Examen.

Examen is a moment at the end of a day to pause, turn and look back with God.  Recognising where you have been aware of the presence of God; and where you may have missed it.  Where you have walked in step with God; or been out of step.  A moment to recognise blessings and be thankful.  Also, to recognise where we have been less than God calls us to be in Jesus.

In our lives we need to build regular moments of environmental examen if we are to sustain “A Long Obedience in the same Direction”.  Back in 2019, the Baptist Union encouraged us to take part in “Living Lent – Creating a Climate of Change”.  In our household we tried to minimise the use of non-recyclable plastic and reduce the red meat in our diet.  They repeated the challenge in 2020.  In our desire for the new thing, maybe you think that is somewhat unimaginative.  But that misses the point.  After journeying for a year, we needed a moment of examen.  We found it helpful to revisit the challenges, particularly to move further towards a meat free diet.  Regular examen increases our awareness so that when you think about shopping, travelling and energy use you become more aware of the environmental costs of the choices that you make.

In church life too, we need moments of environmental examen.  As I write I am aware that it is Environment Sunday.  A moment to focus upon joining our Lord “the maker of heaven and earth” in caring for creation.  And coming up in September there is Climate Sunday – https://ctbi.org.uk/climate-sunday/.  From the 6th of September, churches are encouraged to hold a service focusing on Climate Change at any time over the coming year leading towards the re-scheduled UN Climate meeting in the UK in the autumn of 2021.

Hold a service, great!  But beyond a moment, think about how the environment is reflected in your on-going church life.  Maybe you have already started on the Eco-Church journey.  If so, then build in regular reviews at least once a year or perhaps to the major festivals through the church year.  How might the environment connect with Advent and Christmas, when we celebrate the God who affirms creation by coming to be a part of it.  And at Easter, do you recognise that Christ died to reconcile to God “all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven by making peace through his blood shed, on the cross”  (Col 1v20)?  More regularly, what about communion?  And baptism, a sign of resurrection life; what about the hope of new creation.  Think about the songs you sing in worship – do you include some with a focus upon care of creation?

All these might be moment of environmental examen through our church year.  Alongside theme moments, regularly include environmental concerns in your Sunday prayers,  bulletins and social media feeds.  Encourage people to talk about it in your small groups and ministries, in your leadership teams and church meetings.  Your youth and children’s groups.  Perhaps, with their seeming greater awareness of these issues, you can ask your children and young people to hold you accountable.  After all, it’s their future that we are gambling with when it comes to how our lives today are affecting the climate and environment.

“A Long Obedience in the Same Direction”.  If we are going to respond to climate change this is what we need.  Beyond a moment in our lives, individually or shared together.  Embracing all moments in our lives.  Regularly examined, corrected and re-energised.  Embedded into our discipleship DNA.  With the opening line of Psalm 120, calling out to God in our distress over a distressed creation.  Listening for his voice, that we may walk well with the “maker of heaven and earth” for the wellbeing of creation.  And hoping as the final line of Psalm 135 for the blessing and wellbeing of God for ourselves, for the planet and future generations.

 

This blog is part of a series from Dave Gregory. To see previous blogs in the series, please click here.

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Twelve Steps Towards Freedom: Restore

This post by Dave Gregory was originally published at Seventy Two

I spent some of my daily exercise out in the bluebell woods near my home a week or so back.  A wonderful carpet of blue, a heavy scent filling the air.  What a wonder – life being restored as the exceptionally warm April brings new life once more.  A wonderful surprise on a colder Saturday a few weeks back too.  With my wife, I was out on my bike delivering CDs of the Sunday service to those who cannot watch on the internet.  I approached one door, there was rustling in the bush next to me.  Out stepped a small Muntjac deer, rather bedraggled after the heavy overnight rain.   With the slowdown in traffic and less people on the streets, like other animals, they are encroaching the urban environment.

Perhaps like me you have had your own similar experience.  Or you have seen stories of goats wandering around the streets of Llandudno.  Deer wandering along the roads north east London boarding Epping Forest.  Nature abhors a vacuum they say.  A sign of the ability of nature to restore itself as human activity is scaled back.  Out on my walk today, speaking at a suitable distance from my neighbour he told me of the oak trees by the main road.  The leaves fresh and green, while in past years they curl up brown due to traffic pollution.  A reminder of the impact of humanity upon the natural world.  Signs of hope that we need to hang onto, that it is not too late to restore the damage we have done to the Earth.

The COVID-19 lockdown has had a large impact on our way of life and livelihoods.  It has reminded us of the fragility of our lives and society.  The fragility yet robustness of creation also.  There is something positive in this moment.  A sense of wellbeing as I see these changes.  A renewed sense of joy at the wonder of creation that is God’s gift to us.  And sighing, not of longing over something lost, but in appreciation of what is gained.  A sabbath?

Of course, it may be short lived – there are growing calls that we need to get back to some form of normality for the sake of our personal and national wellbeing.  But it’s a reminder of the direction that we need to go in the years and decades ahead if we are to seek the wellbeing of society and the Earth itself in broader terms than just thinking about money on our pockets.  A stimulus not only to awareness, but also action.

That is where the next of our twelve steps leads.  As we face our own COVID-19 emergency, the last step challenged us to become aware of the people who face the immediacy of the climate emergency today.  The next step moves us from awareness to action.  A vital step for allowing God’s spirit to transform our lives inwardly and outwardly.  For as James reminds us, one is not complete without the other.

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?  Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2v14-17)

Beyond awareness, the next step takes deeper into discipleship.  Into practical action.  With regard to the people we have harmed through the damage we have brought to the Earth, “Make direct amends to such people wherever possible”.

A few weeks ago, we lost a remarkable voice who has championed the cause of and inspired climate action over many decades.  A voice that shaped research and scientific knowledge, impacting government policy nationally and globally, as well the thinking of Christians and the church.  Professor Sir John Houghton, a Baptist Christian, well respected for his scientific insight, integrity, and compassion, sadly died.  He led the Met Office when I first joined in the mid-1980s and then one of the United Nations Climate Panels for many years.  He founded the John Ray Initiative, an environmental education charity that continues go encourage Christians to grow in awareness and action of the environmental crisis, and which I have the privilege of being involved with.

Although I did not know him well, I am grateful for the stimulus he brought to my own thinking about science and faith and seeding my own Christian thinking about climate change.  I still have one of the slides (see below) that he used in his talks, which I adapted into my own presentations over many years.  A simple slide with a chilling message that I have found has brought home to children, young people, and adults the shocking imbalance and injustice of the climate emergency.

Frankly, the lives we have been living before COVID-19 have been the opposite of the Robin Hood story.  We have been robbing the poor to feed the lives of the rich.  A small minority of the world’s population is the most responsible for greenhouse gas emissions and their impact upon the natural world and environment.  If you want to talk about climate footprints, then the rich have the biggest boot, and the poor get the biggest kick.  While we might enjoy the restoration of nature that we have seen these past months, we need to repair the injustice that our lives and climate change are causing.

Restoration is part of redemption.  In the Old Testament, if someone stole from a neighbour, they were to “return what had been stolen … make restitution in full, add a fifth of the value to it and give it to the owner”  (Leviticus 6v4,5).  This was on top of the guilt offering they needed to offer to God, which was costly too – a ram that was top of the range.  And Jesus’ encounters with people say that we need to go further than follow the letter of the law if we to work with God’s redeeming, restoring Spirit.  Think about how Zacchaeus, a cheating tax collector, in with the powers of his day, whose middle name was “injustice” responded when Jesus turned up in his neighbourhood.

‘Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’  (Luke 19v8)

That’s not a fifth of what he had cheated people out of – twenty percent.  A whopping twenty times more – four hundred percent.  And not just the best ram from the flock, half his wealth as well.  And how did Jesus respond? ‘Today salvation has come to this house’.

The Paris Climate Accord has mechanisms in place that provide a transfer of funds from rich nations to the poorer nations who are getting the biggest kick.  But like much of that agreement, promises given to grab headlines are struggling to be put into practice.  The Green Fund aims to mobilise 80 billion pounds a year to help developing nations adapt and mitigate against climate change.  So far, by this year, only 8 billion pounds had been raised.  Compare that to the cost of the COVID crisis is the UK where the government has provided 100 billion pounds in grants and loans to businesses over a couple of months.

Today, many Christians are campaigning for a fairer climate deal for those for whom the climate emergency is a present reality, including Christian Aid whose national campaign to raise awareness this month has had to be curtailed because of the lockdown.  Why not find out what they are doing on their website – https://www.christianaid.org.uk/about-us/what-we-do/resilience-climate.  How might you and your church contribute this year, especially if you are unable to do your usual street collection?  Baptists too play their part.  BMS World Mission offsets staff travel to fund the  “Eco Challenge Fund”, supporting mission projects with an emphasis on creation stewardship.  The installation of solar power systems for hospitals in Chad; sustainable agro-forestry training in the Peruvian Amazon.

The world may be in lock down for a moment, allowing us to see creation being restored.  But while it won’t be forever, the climate emergency will go for many people.  As we move beyond survival mode of the present time, as we seek the wellbeing of those traumatised by the COVID-19 emergency, don’t forget the underlying trauma of climate change for people and the planet.  In reshaping your church vision and missional agenda, put the issue of climate justice before leadership and church meeting.  How might your church raise its voice and play its part in restoring the Earth?

What will it mean for you as later in the year you look ahead towards 2021?  As you begin to set your priorities and budgets?  I know that may be tough for many churches.  But in the year our country hosts the postponed global climate summit?  In the year that we look to rebuild the world economy, hopefully in a more environmentally responsible and just way.  What voice will we bring to the table? What we will say to Jesus as he sits with us in our house?  And will he say back “Today salvation has come to this house’.

 

This blog is part of a series from Dave Gregory. To see previous blogs in the series, please click here.

 

The post Twelve Steps Towards Freedom: Restore appeared first on Seventy Two.

Twelve Steps Towards Freedom: People

This post by Dave Gregory was originally published at Seventy Two

I’ve taken to going on a short walk after lunch.  My once a day exercise as recommended in the government COVID-19 lock down advice.  Keeping an appropriate distance from other people of course.

During the first week of the lockdown, on a beautiful blue-sky day I enjoyed the wonder of creation around me.  The early spring greening of the trees under the bright sunlit clear sky.  The song of birds all around me, usually drowned out by traffic noise where I live.  And as I walked down one road, I spotted posters in the upstairs window of a house.  A message from a young person, perhaps in response to the school climate strikes.  “Show we care – our world is hurting”.

How true that is and not just because of the climate crisis.  While one person had not forgotten, many of the other windows I pass on my walk each day display children’s painting of rainbows.  A communal expression of hope in this time of the COVID-19 emergency.

Something more immediate has come along and knocked the climate emergency from its star billing it has enjoyed over the past year.  Rightly so given the immediacy and urgency of the COVID-19 pandemic that is impacting people, nations and communities around the world with dire and deadly consequences.

Social distancing has put paid to the student climate strikes and the direct action and campaigning of Extinction Rebellion and others in cities and towns across the world.  The Baptist Assembly in May where there was to be a strong climate and environmental strand is postponed.  And COP 26, UN Climate Conference, due to be held in November at the Glasgow Conference Centre has been delayed until 2021, the venue being turned into one of the emergency Nightingale Hospitals.

To be honest – and this may be controversial – I have some problems with the term climate emergency, a phrase we have heard much over the past year.  I think the COVID-19 emergency casts some light on my unease.  COVID-19 with over stretched hospital and brave medical staff, schools and university closures and lock downs feel like an emergency.  It is immediate.  Something that we must respond to quickly.  Even so, some struggle with it all, continuing to gather and travel around.

This morning on breakfast TV, there were interviews with two hospital doctors who spoke of people struggling for weeks on ventilators with uncertain outcomes as they try and overcome the virus.  Some of them medical staff who have caught the virus caring for others.  Not able to be visited by family or friends, over stretched nurses try to help them stay in touch via the occasional video call.  Scary stuff.  All to try and make the urgent message – “Stay Home, Stay Safe, Protect the NHS” – personal.  If YOU break the self-distancing guidelines, YOU will harm others!  All trying to get across the message that this is an emergency.

There are fears that people will only put up with living an emergency for so long.  In my role as a minister over the past few weeks I have often been asked “how long do you think this is going to have to go on for?”  On the lunch time news today, politicians are asking how and when do we begin to return to life as usual?  What is the exit plan?  The thought that we may have to adapt to a new way of living, one more restricted than we in the developed world have become used to in the past fifty years is one that people are not ready to face.

This is what worries me about the phrase climate emergency.  Emergency is an immediate word.  People can only live with an emergency for so long.  Climate and environmental change are crucial issues that we need to address as society and Christians within it.  But for most people and governments, even with growing awareness over the past year and greater commitment to action, there is not seem the same urgency of response as to COVID-19.  The time scales seem too long.  The pace of change we experience seems slow – year and decades not weeks and months.  Have people truly grasped how much our lives will have to change?  Will they be willing to pay the cost in the short and long term to bring relief to the planet and its people?  How long will the climate emergency last?  How long will people put up with it?

The increasing scary media reporting is aimed at making the COVID-19 issue personal.  And the next of the “Twelve Steps towards Freedom” makes the climate emergency personal too: “Make a list of all persons we have harmed and become willing to make amends to them all.”

Jesus knew the importance of making things personal.  When asked what was the most important of the commandments in the Old Testament he replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’  This is the first and most important command.  And the second command is like the first: ‘Love your neighbour the same as you love yourself.’” (Matt 22v37-39)

A part of loving God for me is loving the wondrous creation he has made and gifted to us.  But it can be hard to know how to start.  Yet, the “second command is like the first”.  Perhaps focusing upon people makes the urgency apparent.

There are people around the world who are already being impacted by their own local climate emergencies to which we are connected.  Those most vulnerable to COVID-19 in the developing parts of the world are the most vulnerable to climate change too.  Today, as headline focus upon COVID-19, there is also news of super Cyclone battering Vanuatu, an island nation in the south Pacific.  Already in a state of emergency due to COVID-19, they also must contend with terrible damage caused by a changing climate and the devastation of a second super Cyclone in the past five years.

Whenever I think of climate change, I think of the people my wife Carolyn and I met in Peru when I visited BMS World Mission worker Laura Lee-Lovering back in 2013.  Living next to the Amazon river in flimsy wooden houses, raised on stilts.  Increasingly inadequate as the river levels in the wet season get higher and flood through the raised floors of their homes.

One of the amazing and encouraging things I have seen over the past few weeks is how people are loving their neighbour – perhaps a sign that our Christian heritage is not as lost in this country as we often think.  Checking if they are ok.  Getting shopping if they need it.  Although we are locked down, perhaps community is becoming stronger.  Let’s hope that this is a legacy of this difficult time.

So, the challenge to you this month and to your church community is to build a climate emergency legacy by making it personal.  To make a start in loving your climate neighbour as yourself.  To find out about people for whom the impact of the climate emergency is not in the seemingly hazy future.  It is immediate.  It is here and now.  People for whom it is just as real an emergency today as the COVID-19 crisis is for us all in this moment.   People who our lives are impacting today.  Find out about the work Laura Lee-Lovering is doing in the Peruvian Amazon on the BMS website. Most of the other major Christian mission agencies, such as Christian Aid and TEAR fund, will have stories of how climate change is impacting people lives.  I also subscribe to the “Severe Weather” feed on the BBC News app on my phone.  It alerts me to the impacts extreme weather events are having upon people around the world.  A good prayer prompt.

Making COVID-19 personal may sustain us through the limitations it brings to all our lives and help save some.  Making the climate emergency personal may help sustain our response to people and creation over the longer time that is needed.  Perhaps we need to keep the rainbows in our windows long after this immediate emergency has passed.  A reminder of hope.  A sign of the hope of God’s care for all creation.  Remember, “Show we care – our world is hurting”.

 

This is the eighth blog in a 12 part series from Dave Gregory – you can read the first seven by clicking on the links below or going to our Home Page:

  1. Twelve Steps Toward Freedom – Addicted
  2. Twelve Steps Toward Freedom – Powerless
  3. Twelve Steps Towards Freedom – Conversion
  4. Twelve Steps Towards Freedom – Deeper
  5. Twelve Steps Towards Freedom – Confession
  6. Twelve Steps Towards Freedom – Ready
  7. Twelve Steps Towards Freedom – Change

The post Twelve Steps Towards Freedom: People appeared first on Seventy Two.

Twelve Steps Towards Freedom: Change

This post by Dave Gregory was originally published at Seventy Two

I have hesitated to write this month’s blog.  But this is a journey and so with fellow travellers I think I need to be honest.  I’ve been travelling quite a lot over the past month.  Some of it greener than others.

I travelled “greenly” by train to the South Eastern Baptist Association ministers conference in the beautiful setting of Ashburnham Place.  I was there to speak on Climate Change and how we need to respond as disciples of Jesus.  It was encouraging to discover an awareness of the issues around the environmental crisis among the ministers there.  And an openness and eagerness to think how to join in with God’s delight over and care for creation, seeking as disciples to live in-step with God’s redemptive hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”  (Rom 8v21)

But I had to start my talk with a confession.  Not all my journeying over the past month had been so green.  The day before, I landed back in the UK after a two-week trip to New Zealand.  I was there to speak at two Messy Church conferences about Messy Church Does Science – using simple science experiments to encounter the wonder of creation and the creator.  A trip that has made me aware of the tensions between our lifestyles and the need to care for creation

New Zealand has a vast, beautiful and awe-inspiring landscape.  In North Island, the geysers in Rotorua display the raw energy of creation, while the majestic mountains of South Island speak of the power of God.  It’s a landscape too that reminds us of how humans affect the environment and not just our recent generations.  Before the arrival of the Maori people around 700 years ago, the land was covered in forest, home to some truly remarkable bird species including the Giant Moa.  A flightless bird taller than a human being, sadly, now extinct due to hunting and deforestation.  You do not need  power tools or a bulldozer to destroy forests and cause extinctions – just stones, axes and centuries.  Environmental degradation was enhanced by the arrival of European settlers a few centuries ago, with their more efficient technology, together with sheep and cattle.

People in New Zealand are very aware of living with climate change.  It came up often in conversation – more than in the UK in my experience.  Walking around the streets of Christchurch I happened upon a public installation making people aware of the dangerous impacts of climate change caused by a global temperature increases above 1.5 degrees centigrade.  And wherever I went, people commented “it’s not usually this brown – normally its green”.

They have had little rainfall since the later part of 2019.  The drought has been part of the same weather system than brought extreme conditions to Australia and led to the vast forest fires.  Thankfully, over the past month these have died down, not due to human intervention, but the coming of rain.  And while in New Zealand, there have been few fires they have not been unaffected.  In one of the sessions I led at the conferences, I showed a satellite picture of the Earth with clouds of smoke covering New Zealand.  Through the rest of the day, people came up to me to show me pictures of when the sky turned yellow due to the smoke from Australian fires over a thousand kilometres away.

Yet, while people in New Zealand are very aware of climate change and its effects, they face a dilemma.  It may be ok to travel around in a camper van when you have three weeks or more to slowly wander around the country on holiday.  But the reality of everyday life is that in order to stay connected, flying can seem the only option given the scale, the difficulty of traversing the landscape and the sheer distance of New Zealand from other lands.  And while the distances we travel within our own country are much smaller, in our own ways we are much the same.

There are ways that we can try and make flying greener through offsetting.  Encouragingly on the bottom of my ticket the airline tells me how much carbon-dioxide my flights to New Zealand have generated – 2.5 tonnes.  An acknowledgment that flying contributes to climate change.  A sign that global business is starting to take the issue on board.  And helpful to me too in my own journey towards freedom.  I can ease my conscience by paying to offset my carbon, supporting initiatives that reduce other emissions or increase carbon capture, like planting forests.  While not ideal, it’s a start in helping us to be more aware of how we are impacting our world.

So, off I go to the Climate Stewards offsetting website www.climatestewards.org.  Linked to the excellent Christian environmental charity ARocha, it estimates how much travel and our lifestyle choices contribute to the growing amount of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere that is driving climate change.  So, I enter in my flight details and they estimate my travel has released not 2.5 but 6.5 tonnes of Carbon Dioxide!  Confused!  Well, yes.

So, who do I believe?  Reading around this there are lots of factors to be considered.  The airline’s estimate is based on their industry carbon calculator and appears to only account for the amount of fuel burned.  Climate Stewards on the other hand include the overall impact of the Carbon Dioxide released based on figures provided by the UK government to help businesses estimate their carbon footprint.

Yet despite this knowledge, I feel a tension within me.  Which figure should I take heed of?  One will cost me more than the other.  How much am I willing to pay for the impact my life is costing the environment?  Yes, I think Climate Stewards are probably right.  And we want to play our part.  But when it comes down to the nitty gritty issue of money, well that can cause us to pause and think.  And in the years ahead we are all going to have to face up to the cost.

While now there is increasing awareness of the issue of climate change, there is a fear in the back of my mind whether we will be willing to count the cost.  I remember that after the global financial crash of 2008 and the failure of the UN Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009 to agree measures, climate change went off the public agenda.  It was too expensive to tackle.  Other issues seemed more immediate.  As I write, the global economy is being shaken by fear of the coronavirus, whether that fear is warranted or not.  We need to remember the words of Jesus – Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  (Luke 6v38)  Words we need to keep in mind when it comes to responding to both the coronavirus and the environment.

The seventh step towards freedom of addiction recovery programmes is “humbly ask God to remove our shortcomings.”  It recognises that lasting change can only come through the work of God within our lives.  At the minister’s conference, in the Q+A session, one person reminded us of a quote that has been circling on Facebook attributed to Guth Speth, an American environmental lawyer;

“I used to think that the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change.  I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address these problems.  But I was wrong.  The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy and to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation.  And we scientists don’t know how to do that.”

But surely those of faith do.  Inner transformation is at the heart of what the Christian faith is all about.  For “we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin – because anyone who has died has been set free from sin”  (Rom 6v6,7).  As John White the Christian psychiatrist reminds us “freedom from guilt is what constitutes the real beginning of profound change … the discovery that I am loved and accepted … a deep awareness of forgiveness … sets me free to be holy” (John White, Changing on the Inside, 1991, pg. 167).

I don’t know how you will respond to this month’s musing.  But, on this journey towards freedom I will ask God to continue to remove my shortcomings.  When it comes to caring for creation there’s clearly still work to be done.  I will offset, and not penny pinch!  And I will ask him to help me be as generous as I can be to the world that he has generously shared with me.

 

This is the seventh blog in a 12 part series from Dave Gregory – you can read the first six by clicking on the links below or going to our Home Page:

  1. Twelve Steps Toward Freedom – Addicted
  2. Twelve Steps Toward Freedom – Powerless
  3. Twelve Steps Towards Freedom – Conversion
  4. Twelve Steps Towards Freedom – Deeper
  5. Twelve Steps Towards Freedom – Confession
  6. Twelve Steps Towards Freedom – Ready

 

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