Uncategorized

Saved by Zero

May 2, 2019

Businesses are saying ‘get on with it’, adults and children across the UK are calling for it and now the committee advising the UK Government on climate change has said it’s both feasible and affordable: the UK setting a net zero emissions target by 2050.

This net zero target is needed to meet the Paris Agreement commitment to stay ‘well below 2C’ and pursue efforts to limit temperature rises to 1.5C. In order for businesses and others to work confidently towards this target, we now need the UK Government to legislate for this and start implementing the changes needed. Tearfund is asking the Government to raise that ambition further and become net zero emissions by 2045 at the latest. Research from WWF and Vivid Economics shows it is possible for the UK to go net zero by 2045 by reducing emissions and then balancing the remaining emissions out by planting more trees, restoring peatlands and using technologies to capture and store carbon.

This guidance from the Committee on Climate Change comes at a crucial time when the UK public is making it clear that we want increased and urgent action on climate change. Over recent months we’ve seen a seminal TV documentary by David Attenborough, protests, school strikes and declarations of a climate emergency by local and regional authorities, and this week, the UK and Scottish Parliament.

Today’s recommendation, if adopted, would be a key opportunity in turning that sense of urgency into action and be a litmus test for how serious the Government is to tackle climate change.

The Committee has calculated that to reach net-zero emissions will only cost 1-2% of GDP.  This is the same as the cost it estimated for reaching the 80% emission reduction target enshrined within the Climate Change Act in 2008.  All the economic evidence is that the cost of action is far less than the cost of inaction. Dangerous levels of climate change could cause massive and permanent damage to the UK and global economy.

We know that climate change is already affecting all of us, but as we’ve seen from the unprecedented occurrence of two cyclones in five weeks hitting the coast of eastern Africa – people in poverty are hit the hardest. So, the decision the UK government now faces is a no-brainer – it has to act swiftly to implement today’s recommendations.

Environment, Spirituality

Plastic-Less Lent 2019

March 4, 2019

This little video tells you more about what we’re doing for Plastic-Less Lent this year, so do have a watch and then sign up here to join in: https://www.facebook.com/groups/148636355799566/.

This is a great way to get together with a whole load of other folk from around the world to take steps to reduce our plastic use, which we know is causing massive problems from our seas and for people in poverty.

I look forward to doing this with you!

Bible/Theology, Environment, Videos

Love Always Hopes

February 15, 2019

‘Love Always Hopes’ was the challenging theme I was given to speak on at The Justice Conference in the Netherlands. How do we stay hopeful in the face of millions of people still living in extreme poverty and with global inequality increasing? How do we hope for a better future when our beautiful earth is being devastated by the effects of climate change and waste?

To hear my reflections on remaining hopeful, watch the video of the talk below. (Please note that while the introduction to the talk is in Dutch, the talk itself is in English!)

Uncategorized

Christians Who Make a Difference

November 11, 2018

It’s a pretty scary thing asking an external body to do some research for you and having absolutely no control over the findings. What if you don’t like what they come back with?!

So it was with some nervousness that we decided at Tearfund to team up with the research firm Barna Group to look into connections between caring for people in poverty and spiritual growth.

In particular, we wanted to look at what we call a ‘whole life response’ to poverty. Tearfund is absolutely committed to helping Christians, in the UK and around the world, respond to poverty in a ‘whole life’ way: through prayer, giving, advocacy, lifestyle, and other actions such as volunteering. We summarise that as Pray, Act, Give.

In the research we wanted to explore this whole-life response and see how that features for Christians in the UK (and in the US too – a US version is soon to be released). The research came back with a huge amount of fascinating findings – too many to go into in detail here! But three things in particular stood out for me:

  1. There is a close correlation between the Christian faith and responding to poverty, and Christians are more likely to engage in poverty activism than others.

Four out of five Christians (87%) have taken action on poverty in the past year and, in every area of poverty response, churchgoers scored more highly than non-churchgoers. Of particular interest to me was the small minority (16%) of Christians who took action in all five areas and were what we would call ‘whole life responders’. Consistently the findings showed that Christians who prioritise serving people in poverty also prioritise faith practices such as reading the Bible, being a regular part of a church, and praying.

  1. The Christian faith has a continued legacy when it comes to poverty response.

I was fascinated to see in the findings that growing up in a Christian household is a significant predictor of later poverty activism, even among adults who don’t attend church now. Six out of ten poverty activists (62%) grew up in a home where Christianity was practised regularly, even though they no longer attend church. This underscores the long-term impact that religious upbringing has on caring for the poor, even without current involvement in a church.

  1. We have a long way to go

Although the links between responding to poverty and Christian faith are strong, the research also shows there is much more we can do. It’s great that 73% of UK self-identified Christians gave to a charity last year but, quite honestly, why isn’t that 100%?! And only 34% say they respond to poverty in their prayers. It is encouraging to see that 63% have been engaged in advocating for political change in some way (the majority through petitions), but only 39% report making a concerted effort to change their lifestyles, and especially their consumer habits.

So what can we take away from this research? Well I’ve no doubt all sorts of different things will be brought out by people looking at it, but for me there are two things to take away:

  1. Responding to poverty and discipleship are deeply intertwined

This should be pretty obvious to any church leader reading this, but somehow we still seem to miss it. Around the world, discipleship is one of the big issues being discussed (how can we form faithful and effective disciples in today’s challenging context?) and we run all manner of discipleship courses to try to make this happen. Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking we need to sort out people’s prayer life and bible reading habits first, and things like responding to poverty come further down the line.

If you are a church leader, the message is clear: if you want your congregations effectively discipled, get them engaged with people in poverty and their relationship with Christ will be transformed. 

  1. An effective response to poverty requires our whole lives

Giving financially is a vital part of how we can respond to poverty. Tearfund couldn’t do the brilliant work it does if it wasn’t for the generosity of our incredible supporters. And giving to help others is a Biblical command and reflects our values – if you want to know what is most important to a person, look at their bank statement! But giving on its own isn’t enough. We must also take practical action through, for example, volunteering. And alongside these things, we must be advocates: speaking to governments, institutions and businesses to encourage and push for policies and practices that work on behalf of the poor, instead of against them. Underneath all of this is our own lifestyles and endeavouring to live in ways that are respectful to both people and planet. And finally, surrounding all these human endeavours is prayer. Through prayer we connect with who and what we are praying for and we believe prayer is powerful: at Tearfund we have seen amazing things happen through prayer!

For all of us reading this post, let’s ask ourselves: what are the areas of response we are stronger or weaker in, and what are the steps we could take to live a life that is focused on spending ourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfying the needs of the oppressed (Isaiah 58:10)?

Bible/Theology

The Gospel, The Whole Gospel, and Nothing But the Gospel

November 4, 2018

At a gathering I was involved with recently, one of the topics most under discussion was that old chestnut, ‘what is the Gospel?’ To help us with our deliberations we looked at some papers by a prominent church leader, author and speaker (I won’t say who it was because I don’t think the papers were truly representative of his thinking, so to give his name doesn’t seem fair). I was then one of the people asked to give a response to the papers.

This chap’s view of the Gospel was easily described as (to use his own words), ‘you are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, because of the substitutionary work of Christ alone’.

So is this the Gospel? ‘No’, I said in my response, ‘it is not. It’s a key part of the Gospel. In fact, I think I would go so far as to say that it is the core of the Gospel. But it isn’t the whole Gospel, and therefore – in and of itself – it is not the Gospel’. For someone who professes to hold a very high view of Scripture (elsewhere he uses the word infallible), it actually strikes me as a remarkably unbiblical view of the Gospel since it misses out so much of the Bible.

To me it is like an apple. The definition of the Gospel given above is the apple’s core, but there is so much more to an apple than the core alone, and if that is all you eat it will give you something, but ultimately will leave you undernourished. You might not realise it if you have only ever eaten the core, but you will be missing out on the delights of a whole apple!

So what juicy goodness are we missing out on if we focus only on the core, as important as that is (and I hope it hardly need be said that an apple without the core also isn’t a complete apple)?

Well, Leon Morris might want to say that Romans 3:21-26 is, ‘possibly the single most important paragraph every written’,[1] but I would like to suggest that a close rival would be Colossians 1:15-20, particularly in its assertion that the blood of Jesus was shed on the cross for all things (ie including but not just people).

To my mind, an understanding of the Gospel is deficient unless it is rooted in a strong understanding of the Kingdom of God. A couple of weeks ago I was teaching at a Theology School on the theme of peace. I looked at the angels’ announcement to the shepherds at the birth of Jesus that, ‘There is glory for God in highest heaven, and on earth there is peace among the people whom God has favoured’ (Luke 2:14, translation from The Word Biblical Commentary), and at Peter’s conversation with Cornelius about, ‘the good news (= gospel) of peace through Jesus Christ’ (Acts 10:36).

This message of peace was a fulfillment of the Old Testament hopes for the time when God would come and reign fully amongst his people, bringing in a new, earthy era of love, justice, righteousness and peace (eg. Isaiah 32:16-18; Psalm 85:10-13). As the Old Testament scholar Chris Wright has said, ‘God’s purpose was not to invent a production line for righteous individuals, but to create a new community of people who in their social life would embody those qualities of righteousness, peace, justice and love that reflect God’s own character and were God’s original purpose for humanity’.[2] An integral part of that social life is that it would be lived out within the wider community of creation that then responds appropriately (eg. Isaiah 55:12-13; Isaiah 11:6-9).

So Jesus is the fulfilment of the Old Testament’s hopes and this is what the Gospel is all about.

The GOOD NEWS is that, in him, he brings about peace and reconciliation; a restoration of our relationships, with God centrally (2 Corinthians 5: 18-21; Philippians 4:7), but then also with other people (Romans 12:18; Ephesians 2:14-17), within ourselves (Romans 15:13; Thessalonians 3:16), and peace for the whole wider creation (Colossians 1:15-22; Romans 8:19-23).[3] Don’t we need that so desperately today? (The Introduction to Just Living: Faith and community in an age of consumerism, will give you much more on this.)

So when we think about the Gospel and about what it means to live it out and proclaim it – through the way we live, the things we do, and the words we speak – let’s not settle for something that will give us an emaciated faith: yes I want the core, but I want the whole apple too!

 

[1] Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988) 173.

[2] Chris Wright, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God (IVP: 2004), 51.

[3] Out of a desire not to make this post too long, I have not considered what we see actually in Jesus’ life that relates to all of this, but there is much that we could look at there, for example the interplay between healing and salvation. Salvation is never a purely ‘spiritual’ thing.

Environment

Taking Action on Hothouse Earth

August 18, 2018

In the middle of the estate I live on is a lovely green. It’s a communal area where children play, people walk their dogs and families have picnics. Locals unofficially call it The Green. Over the summer though it would have been more appropriate to call it The Yellow. The heatwave had its impact.

In the UK we’ve been facing our longest heatwave for five years, with temperatures regularly hitting 33 degrees Celsius and water companies issuing water warnings and urging people to use water carefully. With the worst wildfires ever in California, wildfires in Greece and Portugal, and deadly heat in Japan, this will be a summer to remember.

Or will it? Will it just become one summer among many, each one breaking temperature records – the norm in a world that is one degree warmer than at the start of the industrial revolution and is warming fast?

Am I allowed to admit that this scares me? The thought of no rain and running out of water (as was nearly experienced by the residents of Cape Town as they headed towards Day Zero) and the impact of long periods of severe heat is awful. The vegetables in my garden this summer have been noticeably less bountiful than usual, but that’s nothing compared to the people Tearfund serves who have been hit by drought over the last few years in places like Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan and Somalia where millions need food aid to get back on their feet.

This summer’s heatwave is a wake-up call. We’ve had a few of those – things like floods, droughts, unreliable rain, and record typhoons which have been pushing people into poverty, and so have shaped Tearfund’s work over the last 10 years and more. We’ve had quieter wake-up calls too, like our garden birds migrating earlier in the UK. This week we had another loud one from the ‘Hothouse Earth‘ report from the American Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, reminding us how terrible it will be if we go past the Paris Agreement target (1.5 degrees) and get warmer by two degrees since pre-industrial times, reaching a tipping point which will probably set in train a range of feedback loops that will lead to further warming. At that point… we dread to think.

The question facing us is, will we wake up? The science is certain. We know we are on a certain trajectory already, even if we were to stop CO2 emissions overnight. The challenge for us now is, armed with the scientific knowledge we already have, how bad are we going to let it get? Will we take bigger steps than we already have to keep us from getting to that two degree level?

The authors of the report (more properly entitled ‘Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene’) tell us that what is needed is ‘a fundamental re-adjustment of our relationship with the planet’. As Christians we can say a loud ‘Amen’ to that.

The consumer culture we are in teaches us to see the planet as simply ‘the environment’ – something akin to a stage on which we, the important actors, play out and make our lives. We have been taught to see the world simply as a resource, for us to use however we like for our own benefit.

However, Scripture gives us a different picture. The world is something that God has made and loves. He thinks it is ‘very good’ (Genesis 1:31) – so good in fact that he creates a whole species which he tasks with the job of looking after his precious creation (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:15). We are ‘adam from the ‘adamah (Hebrew for earth), intricately connected to the rest of creation. When the wider creation is harmed then we will be too.

The planet was made by Jesus and through Jesus and for Jesus (Colossians 1:16). That’s a stunning declaration of the value that is in this world. It is as if the planet was created to be a gift from the Father to the Son. How dare we defile something that bears the hallmarks of God in this way?

So how will we live out this transformed relationship with the earth? Or maybe the better question is, how will I live out this relationship? I need to make a response myself, I can’t just tell you what to do. So here goes:

Because I want to love this world and don’t want to see millions pushed into poverty or other species destroyed through climate change, I’ve looked long and hard at how I live my life. This year, any travel I’ve done in the UK and mainland Europe I’ve done by train or car rather than flying (it’s more time consuming but it’s much nicer, and I can get work done or look out the window depending on my mood). I turned down an offer to be the main speaker at a conference in Australia (that was tough – I would have liked to have done it). But I also know I’ve flown too much because of my work and am determined not to do that next year.

I’ve switched to a mostly plant and grain based diet and grow a lot of my own vegetables as well as supporting a local organic grower. When I took my job at Tearfund and knew I’d have to drive more, I asked them to install charging points and I got an electric car which is charged with electricity from a green energy supplier (and from my solar panels at home). Take a look here for more we can all do.

Because of the urgency of this situation, I helped start up Eco Church, a scheme to help churches look after God’s world through all areas of church life. We can act as local churches and as the global church together, acting and praying to see change. Get your church signed up!

I’m determined to use my voice to speak up and push our governments to fulfil the commitments made under the Paris Agreement – and yes let’s push Trump to do so too. And, please join Tearfund in calling the World Bank to switch their billions of pounds of energy investment in developing countries from fossil fuels to renewable power.

What will you do?

As followers of this Jesus through whom all things were made, let us be at the forefront of demonstrating a different relationship with the planet: a relationship of humility, servanthood, gentleness, mercy and compassion; one in which, instead of striving to pile up more and more goods for ourselves, we commit ourselves to working for justice and the flourishing of the natural world. Let us join God in loving this world that he has made.

( This article was first published on Christian Today. You can see the original article here. Image: ReutersAerial view of Trabuco Canyon as a tanker aircraft dumps water onto Holy Fire, Near Santiago Peak, California, August 6, 2018)