Category: Twelve Steps Towards Freedom

Twelve Steps Towards Freedom: Restore

Dave Gregory,

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

Dave Gregory,

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

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