Greening the Lectionary

A Theological Response to the Ecological Crisis: Reflections, Liturgy, Reviews, Comment.

Hypocrites? Emma Thompson and Me.

This week thousands of people have engaged in peaceful protests to highlight the urgent need to address climate change, and their actions combined with David Attenborough’s documentary on Thursday and the persistence of teen activist Greta Thunberg, have put the climate emergency firmly on the news agenda. Responses to the protests have varied, ranging from enthusiastic support to the inevitable trolling, but the organisers Extinction Rebellion suggest that the media coverage has been mixed but fairly positive.

One of the more persistent criticisms has been one of hypocrisy, that those who are campaigning are not living by the values they espouse. This criticism was not helped by Dame Emma Thompson flying a reported 5400 miles to join the protest. While wholeheartedly supporting the protests, I struggled to understand her rationale, but in our age where celebrity is power and guarantees a headline, her decision may have been the right one.

As a Christian, I tend to live by the axiom “Let the one who is without sin, cast the first stone.” I am in no position to judge Dame Emma. I'm aware that there are aspects of my own life that wouldn’t stand up to much “Green” scrutiny. I am a committed non-flyer, buy most of my clothes second hand and have reduced my consumption of lamb and beef to almost nothing, but I am far too fond of Diet Coke (I know, I know) and hot baths (I have a chronic pain condition and a bath helps) to say I live a “Green lifestyle”. I drive a van, because my husband is disabled, we need to get the wheelchair in and we can’t afford two cars (and would two cars be “greener” anyway?). Public transport is not sufficiently frequent or available in rural North Yorkshire to make that a viable option on a daily basis. 

I know I use far too much carbon, but sometimes I haven’t got the time or effort to research, plan, and enact the things that will make the difference. This is because I have to keep on living, working and caring about other things and other people. It does make me feel guilty and I long to be carbon neutral. I have made a decision to pay for the planting of mangroves but I’m not sure this really lets me off the hook.

It would be easy to accuse me of being a hypocrite. I blog about environmental issues, I make speeches, my Church is an Eco-Church, we mentor other churches, we run training days, (although our area of specialism is bio-diversity not carbon-reduction) but just because I can’t live up to my ideals, just because the structure of the world in which I live makes it so hard, doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in those ideals. It just means that I’m human and not perfect.

Christians have long faced accusations of hypocrisy, people saying they don’t come to Church because they look at the people who do and find them wanting. They fail to understand that simply because the ideals we espouse are difficult to live up to doesn’t mean they aren’t great ideals to aspire to. When people say “I can’t be a Christian because they are all hypocrites,” my standard response is “join us -one more won’t make any difference.” Trying to live by Christ’s values, and sometimes ( even frequently?) failing, receiving forgiveness and trying again is, in my book, preferable to not trying at all.

Many of those protesting this week have made costly lifestyle choices which minimise their impact on the environment. For them accusations of hypocracy must sting. Others, like Emma Thompson, will be making compromises between their ideals and other pressures in their lives, but just because people don’t always practice what they preach doesn’t mean we should stop listening to their plea for action. Especially when they are right.

Despite failing to live up to my “Green” ideals, I still want action from my government, from the governments of the world and from the businesses that I use. I want them to make it easier for me to live the lifestyle I want. I hope, indeed I long, for them to create a world where it is simple to live a lifestyle that doesn’t not damage life on the planet, that isn’t stealing from the future, that ensures a good life for my grandchildren (as yet unborn) and that doesn’t make me feel guilty all the time. I am prepared for the cost, I am prepared for radical change, but I don't want to have to think about and research every tiny decision I make. 

MPs, MEPs, CEOs, I want you to make it easier for me. If my actions are so damaging to the environment make them illegal. If the products I buy are causing ecocide don't sell them. If I'm using up more than my fair share of resources then ration them. Invest in public transport and clean electricity. Do whatever it takes  – you have my consent, you have the consent of all who protested and all who support the protestors. If after you've done that, I complain, I cheat the system, I break the new laws, then I'm a hypocrite, but until then I'm just a person doing my best while asking for things to be different, and so is Dame Emma.  

Dear Readers, 9th March 2019

Thank you for visiting my site. I hope it will be useful to you. I have been prompted to begin this project, - weekly lectionary thoughts focusing on "Green" issues, because I am becoming increasingly convinced about the vital contribution Christians can make as we face up to the environmental challenges of the 21st Century. I have a vision of the Church being the leader in this area, being a catalyst that inspires and informs other of all faiths and none to take action and make changes. In a Church which seems increasingly fragmented and unable to speak with a united voice, this, I would suggest, is an issue around which we can coalesce.

Within my own tradition of Anglicanism, “strive[ing] to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.” is identified as a Mark of Mission. But Anglicans have not been alone in identifying caring and advocating for creation to be an essential and Godly task.

Pope Francis in Laudato si states “All of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation..”*

Whilst the Methodist, Baptist and United Reformed Churches of Great Britain have called upon their Churches to “confess their guilt in relation to the causes of climate change, to show signs of repentance and redeemed sacramental living and to be a prophetic voice in the life of our communities.”**

The Bible is primarily about God not the environment. It records the way that God has revealed himself and how people have experienced him, culminating the revelation of God in Christ. I want to reassure you, right at the very beginning of this project that I know that the Bible is not "God's Big Book of Green Ethics" and will endeavour not to treat it as such. I hope that I will always begin with Scripture, rather starting with an environmental agenda and twisting the readings to fit. If you ever think I'm doing that, please hold me to account in the comments section.

The authors of Scripture had no conception of climate change, carbon emissions, pesticide usage, GM crops, plastic waste, industrial pollution, or poor air quality. Nevertheless, I am convinced that study of scripture, and reflection upon it has a significant contribution to make as we approach the environment challenges of the 21st Century. Why? Because the Bible has plenty to say about justice, about responsibility, about land, about prophesy and about creation. An understanding that the world exists as a result of God's creative ability and belongs to him, is a consistent Biblical theme. Such a theme will undoubtedly inform our ethical discussions and behavioural choices just as our understanding of "being made in the image of God" does.

The site is for everyone. It should be perfectly possible to read the reflections in the same way as Bible reading notes, to give a perspective on the text and I would be very encouraged if people used them in this way. I am also writing for those who preach, in order to encourage more regular preaching about "treasuring creation".

Preaching matters; it shapes people's understanding of what it means to follow Christ, of what our missional priorities are, of what Christians care about. If we don't ever preach about environmental issues, people will imagine that Christians have nothing to say about what is arguably the most pressing global issue of our time, maybe of all time.

I am challenging myself to write a lectionary reflection about "Green Issues" for every week of the year, but I am not imagining that anyone would want to preach about the environment every week or that any congregation would want them to, but I believe it is appropriate to preach about our responsibilities to creation with regularity, because it is part of our discipleship.

You may find that a regular, but brief, drip, drip, drip approach may be helpful. Using "Green" issues as illustrations to your main point can be a helpful approach. Or you may prefer to preach a sermon which tackles the subject directly, but less often. Either way, I hope my musings help, but even if they don't, could I still urge you to "Green the Lectionary" in your own way and help congregations navigate faith and the environment.

Notes with links

*http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html

Paragraph 14 

** https://www.methodist.org.uk/media/3201/higf-report-and-study-guide-0514.pdf

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Speech to the General Synod July 2018

 

I wish to speak to the first three clauses. I am speaking about my concern that this area has hitherto been under-resourced despite its great importance, yet it has achieved much with what it has had. Limited resources in Church life mean that hard choices must be made, priorities agreed and stewardship applied. There is much deserving of support: children and young people; stewardship; disability awareness; safeguarding; the missing generations, you can make your own list. Against such a background, resourcing environmental programmes can be seen as one priority amongst many, but all that we have heard this afternoon suggests that the environment is the priority for us.

It is core business. It is a question of survival, a question of justice, a question of advocating for the poorest in our world and to ensuring intergenerational justice. It is about looking where we put our money where our mouth is. With our investment we are saying that our money is where our mouth is, but is it in the case of resourcing? It is a case, I believe, of seeking, first, the Kingdom of God and finding everything else added.

I speak from the perspective of being blessed by my church’s engagement with a churchyard biodiversity project and with Eco Church and being extensively supported by our Leeds Diocesan Environment Officer, Jemima Parker, in doing so. Our project is based on the idea that our churchyard, which is managed for wildlife, acts as an ark for vulnerable species whose habitat is scare. 

This engagement with the environment has had far-reaching and positive effect. Firstly, it has had a Heineken effect, reaching the parts that others cannot reach. It has enthused young people, allowing us to nurture the next generation of leaders. Two people who manage the project are under 25 years old and they have harnessed youth funding to enable conservation awareness weeks to take place. The school has had churchyard weeks which have included bug hunts and moth hunts, but also teaching about Christian understanding of what happens when we die. We have gained credibility and earned the right to speak with authority in the public arena as academics, wildlife professionals, charities and the local council have both worked with us and sought our help. We have made connections and sparked the curiosity necessary for pre-evangelism and our social capital in our community is sky high.

Although our work has been predominantly in the area of biodiversity rather than climate justice, I believe the opportunities presented are the same: to engage meaningfully with those who have hitherto found Christianity irrelevant or even immoral, to speak coherently with a united voice on an ethical issue of global significance around which we can build a diverse coalition of those of faith and none, and to concern ourselves with the common good. I want to support the motion. I would like to see money spent on environmental programmes and DEOs. It is money well spent.

I would like you to prioritise the environmental engagement in your parishes, in your dioceses and as a national Church and prioritise it in your budgets. I would like to see our money where our mouth is again, in resources as well as in investment. It has been said that everything has a cost and there is a cost to passing this motion, but there is a cost to under-resourcing and side-lining the environmental aspects of our mission; not only the obvious cost to future generations and to the poor, but the cost of a lost opportunity to speak good news to our nation and, finally, to be listened to.