Bible/Theology, Environment

Formed from the dust of the ground

August 7, 2020

Jocabed Reina Solano Miselis is a Christian woman from the Gunadule people, brought up on the Guna Yala islands off the coast of Panama. Jocabed told me about the Guna practice of burying the umbilical cord and placenta in the ground when a baby is born. The women cut the cord, wrap it with the placenta and give it to the grandfather who buries it in the mountains, under a cacao tree. Jocabed says, ‘for nine months the umbilical cord and placenta united the baby and the mother. Now the cord ties men and women to the earth. It fertilises the earth from which a plant germinates as a sign of unity and of the hope for future generations.’

We have been created from the dust of the ground (Gen. 2:7): we are adam created from the adamah (Hebrew for earth or ground)… earth creatures… dusty ones. As such we have an innate connection with the wider natural world – something many of us experienced when we were in lockdown. The change of rhythm and allowance of a daily walk got us outside and we rediscovered how important nature is to our wellbeing.

As earth creatures, we have been created to image and represent God, like a living statue in the temple of God’s creation. With that we affirm that all people have been made in the image of God. There is radical equality here, which is why poverty and the racial injustice that is being increasingly exposed is an absolute abomination to God.

Equality between all people and humble connection with the wider natural world are deeply embedded in what it means to have been created in God’s image, formed from the dust of the ground.

What do those two aspects bring to mind for you? Is there a response you could make that is being prompted within you?


This blog post was originally published here by St Paul’s Cathedral.

Bible/Theology, Environment

Consider the birds of the air

July 31, 2020

Despite the very real worries and grief, one of the absolute delights of lockdown for so many of us was listening to the birds singing.

I live in a city, near a dual carriageway, but have worked hard over the years to make my fairly small garden one that is welcoming to birds and other wildlife, and this spring it seemed to explode! As the weather improved, I sometimes sat outside the back door for my online meetings and it was wonderful watching a whole variety of different birds, busily collecting twigs and bits of grass for their nests. People would often comment on the birdsong they could hear when I took myself off mute and I’m not alone in this: in one meeting, every time a particular man went to speak, we could hear a cuckoo calling loudly in the background.

Birds are amazing creatures and our world is full of an incredible variety. One of my favourites is the Bassian thrush from Australia which hunts by directing its farts at piles of leaves, making the worms move around so the thrush can see where they are!

Closer to home, I’ve been reflecting on the sparrows and robins that share my garden with me (one particular robin likes to spread out his wings and lie down in a patch of leafy soil near where I sit, and sunbathe). You may well know this little ditty by Elizabeth Cheney:

Said the robin to the sparrow,
‘I should really like to know,
Why these anxious human beings
Rush about and worry so.’

Said the sparrow to the robin,
‘Friend I think that it must be,
That they have no Heavenly Father,
Such as cares for you and me.

As you look at the birds around you, I hope you might let them remind you how much your heavenly Father cares for you and will provide for you. It is a good thing indeed to consider the birds of the air.


This blog post was originally published here by St Paul’s Cathedral.



Environment

Trees of life

July 28, 2020

My Colombian friend, Juliana, used to live in Cusco in Peru, and was very involved with helping local churches get involved with looking after the land. The highlands of Cusco have been seriously deforested and are suffering terribly from the impact of climate change, with farmers saying that their crops don’t grow like they used to. Juliana helped one Quechua community, many of whom were Christians, plant 32,000 native trees, part of a project to form a forest of a million trees that will cover the bare mountains and replenish the watersheds below.

Trees are a vital part of life on earth. They protect the soil, absorb CO2 and provide habitats for a myriad of wildlife. They are a vital part of our own personal lives too. Think for a moment – are there particular trees that you can remember from your childhood or that you particularly love now? And, have you ever given much thought to trees in the Bible? Once we stop and pay attention, we notice that trees feature through the whole story of the Bible and are present at nearly every major occurrence.

As I consider the appalling consequences of deforestation, I am struck, by way of contrast, with the Jewish festival of Tu b’Shevat, ‘the New Year for Trees’. How beautiful to have a new year especially for trees; a day to pause and recognise the beauty and wonder of trees and all they do for us and the land, and to commit ourselves to looking after them and to planting more.

For me, loving trees isn’t separate to my faith: it’s an integral part of what it means to worship the Creator. And as I seek to live in ways that take care of trees, so too I want to be like the tree of Psalm 1, planted by streams of water, rooted deeply in God through the rhythms and practices of my life.


This blog post was originally published here by St Paul’s Cathedral.

Bible/Theology, Environment, Uncategorized, Videos

Covid-19: Hope, suffering and a wake up call

July 3, 2020

For many, this time of global pandemic has raised hard questions – about how we live, about our values, about God. I was asked by St Paul’s Cathedral to reflect on some tough questions:

  • Is Covid-19 a wake up call to us?
  • What does hope mean in this time?
  • Does the suffering caused by this pandemic shake your faith in God?

I hope my reflections on these questions offer some encouragement and food for thought to you in this time.


These videos were originally published here by St Paul’s Cathedral.

Uncategorized

What future will we build after lockdown?

May 10, 2020

SEVENTY-FIVE years ago, VE Day marked the end of a period of great suffering and turmoil. This year, it falls amid one of the biggest crises the world has seen since 1945. After VE Day, the UK had the hope, vision, and unity to reimagine society and build the NHS. As we move slowly towards coming out of full lockdown, what future will we imagine, and what will we do to build it?

Churches can play a vital part in helping society to answer this question. Although our buildings may be closed, many have adapted quickly to serve their communities with food-distribution networks, phone banks for the isolated, online pastoral support, and much more; and we’ve seen huge numbers engaging online: a survey published last week suggested that a quarter of UK adults had tuned in to a religious service since lockdown began.

For many years, Tearfund has walked alongside communities around the world as they respond to disasters, and we have seen the crucial part that local churches play as communities rebuild. This crisis has held up a mirror to society and revealed aspects of brokenness that were often previously disregarded, but the church can demonstrate that a different way forward is not only possible, but a better option for everyone.

In the words of Dr Vinoth Ramachandra, one of the senior leaders of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES), “just as a receding tide exposes the debris that we would rather not see, the virus has exposed the deep health and economic inequalities within rich nations, as well as between nations. Poor economies are on the brink of collapse. And it is the poor and vulnerable communities within the rich nations that have been disproportionately affected.”

Our relationship with the natural world is also under the spotlight. Our destruction of the natural environment has made it more likely for viruses to jump species and get into humans in the first place, and research suggests that those breathing the most polluted air are more likely to die. Covid-19 is not a natural disaster, but a disaster largely of our own making.

The crisis has also revealed some of the best of humanity, however. Around the world, communities are displaying an incredible capacity for sacrificial love, courage, and kindness. Medics, food-industry workers, and care staff are going the extra mile, and, through street-level initiatives, millions of us are exploring what it means to love our neighbours.

In fact, I believe that we are beginning to see values emerge that could shape a brighter future for us all:

1. From “I, alone” to “We, together”. Our interconnectedness and our need for one another has never been clearer. In the UK, there has been an extraordinary surge in volunteering, creating new expressions of community, and weekly celebrations of vital ‘key workers’. Globally, the rapid spread of the disease has also demonstrated how the health and well-being of just one of us has implications for us all. We are deeply connected with one another and with the whole of creation.

2. From valuing economic productivity above all to valuing life. In response to this crisis, we have seen those without homes being housed and communities coming together to make huge sacrifices to save lives, demonstrating a shift to valuing life over productivity.

3. From small tweaks to a new way of being. Many are beginning to realise that we have a chance to reshape culture and society. More and more people are joining this conversation, and there is an appetite for real change. In a recent YouGov poll, only nine per cent of respondents said that they wanted life to return to “normal” once the lockdown is over. We have seen that we are capable of adapting fast as human beings and as a society: fundamental renewal feels possible, and examples of this reshaping are popping up in Milan, Amsterdam, and elsewhere.

As a Christian, I believe that God’s intention is for peace, for ‘shalom’. This transcends our modern notion of peace to include ideas of wholeness, balance, and tranquillity: everything in its place, everyone connected in right relationship — the antithesis of chaos; a world reflecting back the love and beauty of God.

This crisis might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape society more towards this vision, but it is not guaranteed. We could easily fall back to the old normal, and forget the injustices that have been exposed. We could even go in a dangerous direction, where lockdowns result in a rise of racism and division, inequalities are worsened, those with the least are forgotten, and the economic stimulus package prioritises polluting industries.

Or, we could truly embrace the three shifts that we see emerging. We could live in the knowledge that our decisions affect everyone else and refuse to define people by their economic value or social status, instead valuing them as made in the image of God. We could pursue economic-recovery measures that fast-track action against the climate emergency, protect the vulnerable, and create greater global solidarity. We could reboot the world in a way that reduces the racial, economic, and other inequalities which have been exposed during the crisis.

ULTIMATELY, this choice is up to all of us. Crises of this scale give us, as a society, the rare opportunity to ask questions about who we are and about our place in the world. As the Archbishop of Canterbury said in his Easter sermon: “After so much suffering, so much heroism from key workers and the NHS, we cannot be content to go back to what was before as if all is normal. There needs to be a resurrection of our common life.”

In the past, Christians have, so often, been central at moments of social renewal — from the abolition of the slave trade to the civil-rights struggle, to the Jubilee 2000 debt-relief campaign. We have a similar opportunity now. VE Day heralded an era of global reimagining and reconstruction. Seventy-five years on, what part will you and your church play in this great reshaping of society — locally, nationally, and internationally?

At Tearfund we have launched a new toolkit for church leaders and their congregations to prompt discussion about this among your friends or in a small group. The toolkit will help you explore how we can each play our part in shaping this big reboot of our society and economy. For more information, please visit www.tearfund.org/reboot and let’s work towards this new future together.

(This blog post first appeared as an article in The Church Times on 8 May 2020.)

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Image: Volunteers pack supplies for vulnerable people at a food-distribution hub in London, last month.

CREDIT: PA

Environment

The Burning Question on Earth Day 2020

April 22, 2020

Today is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and the theme this year is climate action. 

Earth Day is a global response to the environmental crisis and is marked on April 22 each year. The first Earth Day, in 1970, is now recognized as the planet’s largest civic event in history, and has proved hugely significant in catalysing the modern environmental movement. While Earth Day 2020 may be going digital this year as a result of Covid-19, EarthDay.org hopes to ‘flood the digital landscape’, joining voices together to call for meaningful action and change. 

To mark this year’s Earth Day, at Tearfund we are calling on the UK public to write to the CEOs of Coca-Cola and PepsiCo urging them to reduce dramatically the amount of single-use plastic they sell into developing countries. Go here to make your voice heard. 

This call comes as a result of Tearfund’s recent report:  The Burning Question which reveals for the first time the hidden plastic pollution footprint that four of the world’s biggest consumer brands are responsible for, driving up global greenhouse gas emissions.

The report has found that the emissions produced from the open burning of Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever’s plastic packaging on street corners, open dumps and in backyards in developing countries is a major contribution to the climate emergency. And they do this despite knowing that: 

  1. waste isn’t properly managed in these contexts; 
  2. their packaging therefore becomes pollution;
  3. such pollution scars landscapes, contributes to climate change and harms the health of the world’s poorest people.

Such actions – with such knowledge – are morally indefensible.

This report looks at the emissions from burning plastic in six countries (China, India, the Philippines, Brazil, Mexico and Nigeria) and has estimated that, across just these six countries, CocaCola, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever are responsible for more than half a million tonnes of plastic pollution every year. This is enough to cover 83 football pitches every day (to a depth of 10cm). That’s more than one football pitch every 20 minutes. The plastic that is burnt creates emissions equivalent to 4.6 million tonnes of CO2 – the same as 2 million cars on UK roads a year. 

This is the first time such estimates have ever been made, and Tearfund is the first NGO to quantify the link between the burning and dumping of plastic in developing countries from multinationals and climate change. The findings of this report show that these companies must urgently switch to sustainable refillable and reusable packaging alternatives instead of single-use plastic packaging and sachets.

Tearfund launched the Rubbish Campaign in May 2019 to urge companies to act, and all but Coca-Cola have made new commitments related to Tearfund’s asks. However, so far only Unilever has committed to reduce its total plastic use. At present, Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever make little or no mention of emissions from the disposal of their products or packaging in their climate change commitments. These companies have a moral responsibility for the disposal of the products they continue to pump into developing countries without proper waste management systems.

Since May 2019 Tearfund’s Rubbish Campaign has been challenging each company with a four-point plan to step up the pace to take responsibility for their plastic pollution. Tearfund has ranked how well the companies are doing in committing to this plan, asking, ‘Who’s the most rubbish?’. This league table reveals that Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are barely off the starting blocks, with Unilever far ahead.

The steps taken to date by Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are a far cry from the action necessary to tackle a crisis of this magnitude. This Earth Day it is more important than ever that these companies urgently reduce their reliance on single-use plastic and switch to refillable and reusable packaging alternatives. Today is also the AGM of Coca-Cola where important decisions about its future will be made. Today we can raise our voices to speak up and demand further action and responsibility from Coca-Cola and PepsiCo’s CEOs – for the sake of people living in poverty and the climate.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

  • Go here to write to the CEOs of Coca-Cola and PepsiCo urging them to dramatically reduce the amount of single-use plastic they sell into developing countries. Go here to make your voice heard. 
  • Listen to this episode of BBC Radio 4’s programme ‘Costing The Earth’, which focuses on our latest report, The Burning Question.
  • Read The Burning Question report, which highlights the link between plastic pollution and climate change. It includes the stories of Royda, Pascal, Miriam, and Agness from Tanzania and how they are affected. 
  • Share the report on social media. Use #rubbishcampaign and tag @CocaCola @PepsiCo @Nestle and @Unilever to let them know you want them to take action.
  • Pray for people who live without rubbish collection, for protection of their health and for provision for their families.

Thank you for caring and Happy Earth Day!