Bible/Theology, Environment

A Trinitarian Approach to the Climate Crisis – Part 3: The Perfecting Holy Spirit

July 27, 2021

We have reached the final part of this three-part series, ​​looking at how caring for the whole creation – including the human part of creation – goes to the heart of the Christian faith and how it does so because it is rooted in the community of God in the Trinity.

We looked in Part 1 at God as a God of justice: a God who raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap, and who calls us to be active in doing the same. And, in Part 2, we looked at God the Son as Lord of all creation, who loves and values all things that he has created – people and the wider natural world. So now, in Part 3, we will consider God the Holy Spirit, beginning once again with the Scriptures, this time starting with Romans 8:19-25.

For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in 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. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Whilst of course the apostle Paul himself didn’t use punctuation, let alone chapters and verses, it is apt that this whole chapter of Romans 8 is given the title in my Bible of, ‘Life through the Spirit’. This wonderful chapter sees Paul delighting in the work of the Spirit in the lives of those who are in Christ Jesus, and it highlights the eschatological role of the Spirit in God’s creation, moving it towards its perfection in Christ (thank you to the brilliant late theologian, Colin Gunton, who first drew my attention to the eschatalogical role of the Spirit). We see this starting right at the beginning as the Spirit, the breath of God, hovers over the waters, bringing order out of chaos. The Spirit is thus fully involved in the work of creation and then continues working through the Scriptural narrative in a number of ways, in the life and ministry of Jesus particularly, and then we see that journey culminating in the vision of the future in Revelation 21 and 22, where the Spirit and the bride say “come”.

It is that new reality that we are drawn towards through the Holy Spirit – that earthy, physical, heavenly reality of the transformed heavens and earth where God dwells in our midst, death and suffering are no more and in which the wider natural world is fully present with trees and rivers.

The gift of the Holy Spirit is given to us as the firstfruits – the downpayment and guarantee of that future that we are being moved towards. The Spirit helps us to keep looking forward, to anticipate that vision and live our lives in the light of it – the future when, as Romans 8 says, the children of God will be revealed and the whole creation set free.

We have a crucial role to play in this movement of the Spirit. As I reflect on this I find myself coming back again and again to a quote (given to me many years ago by Bishop Graham Cray when we were doing some teaching together) by a Catholic theologian, Peter Hocken, who said, ‘The Spirit has been given both as the firstfruits and as the hope of liberation, and we are stretched between the two’.

Don’t we feel that stretching so much?! There are many wonderful things in this life that I deeply enjoy, and yet I am not comfortable here. I see the headlines of a billion marine animals dying from the Canadian heatwave, of people dying from floods in China and western Europe, of world leaders refusing to take meaningful action to keep us to within 1.5 degrees of warming…. and I cry and rage and lament and grieve. I long for a different reality and know that I must faithfully, patiently work towards that reality despite what I see around me.

The Spirit’s work in our lives enables us to do that; helping us to pray in our weakness, giving us hope ‘for what we do not yet have’, causing us to bear fruit in our characters (try reading Galatians 5:22-23 from the perspective of faithful living in response to the climate crisis) and manifesting supernatural gifts (again, try reading through 1 Corinthians 12:7-10 and see how they may be used in our climate action!). As we look towards the future, we know, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 15:58, that our work in the Lord is not in vain. It may sometimes feel futile, but we have the promise that the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives will ensure that our efforts will, somehow, last into and show in the age to come.

So let us keep working, rooted in the Trinitarian God: our God of justice, the Lord of all creation, and the eschatological Spirit who keeps us moving forwards in hope.

I want to conclude this blog series with this short video from Tearfund, highlighting the climate crisis and calling us to play our part in caring for creation, joining with the Father, Son and Spirit as we do so, acknowledging that care for the whole world is at the heart of who our God is.

Please do watch it, use it with your churches, and may we stand together in prayer and action.

Bible/Theology, Environment

A Trinitarian Approach to the Climate Crisis – Part 2: The Lord of All Creation

July 8, 2021

In this three-part series, we are looking at how caring for the whole creation – including the human part of creation – goes to the heart of the Christian faith and how it does so because it is rooted in the community of God in the Trinity.

In my last post, we looked at God as a God of Justice: a God who raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap, and who calls us to be active in doing the same. In Part 2 we now turn to think about God the Son, Jesus Christ. Our starting point will once again be the Scriptures, where we discover Jesus as the Lord of All Creation. Colossians 1:15-20 describes this in beautiful and powerful words:

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

God the Son in whom and through whom and for whom all things were created. There is, of course, so much that can be said about this passage, but the key point for us here is that powerful affirmation of the value of all things. The God of Justice calls us to take action with and for people living in poverty. But understanding this passage in its fullness asks more of us: we worship the Lord of All Creation, who values the whole world that he created. It’s a powerful affirmation that all things are loved and are valuable to God. Yes, people. But not only people. Verse 20 is one I come back to time and time again, that Jesus’ blood shed on the cross has made peace and reconciled all things in heaven and on earth to God.

We see this elsewhere in the Scriptures. The Bible begins of course with the statement that God is the Creator of the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:31 says that God looked at all that God had made and said that it is ‘very good’. We also see it in the laws of the Old Testament – the jubilee and the sabbath weren’t only about people, but also about the land and the livestock. We see it in the prophets, in the way they held together righteousness, justice and the state of the land. We see it in the Psalms and in the vision of the book of Revelation, where, as theologian Richard Bauckham says in his memorable phrase, we are pictured as part of ‘the community of creation’, taking part in that choir of worship to God.

So we worship the Lord of All Creation, and recognise that we have been created and placed in this world, not separate to it, but as part of that community. And we have a job to do – to be God’s image, to mirror God’s care, love and valuing of the wider natural world by tending to it.

We’re facing a terrible environmental crisis, with environmental degradation on an unprecedented, heartbreaking scale. I sometimes teach on a Master’s course on environmental ethics, and I begin by getting the students into pairs and asking them to make a list of every environmental problem that they can think of that we’re faced with today. Then we go round the room and take it in turns to share one, and continue going round until we’ve shared them all – it’s a long list! We are facing environmental degradation on a scarcely-comprehensible scale.

Covid itself is an environmental crisis, demonstrating the utterly broken relationship we have with the wider natural world. We are pretty sure that it is a zoonotic virus (one that can jump between species to find new hosts) that has come about because of our mistreatment of the wider natural world. It is also likely that Ebola developed because of the destruction of the rainforest in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Covid opens our eyes to deforestation, illegal trafficking and poaching of animals, the wet market trade, and the many other terrible ways that we are treating the wider creation that God loves so much.

Our climate crisis isn’t only impacting people, but it is causing ecosystem collapse and extinction at an unprecedented rate. My eldest daughter’s boyfriend is from Hawaii and he’s grown up diving amongst the coral reefs around the island he lives on. Through his childhood and now into adulthood, he has seen the coral reefs of his home be devastated. They are heartbreakingly different from what they used to be.

A recent UN report found that 66% of marine environments and 75% of land environments have been changed because of us. I was struck watching one of the Perfect Planet programmes by David Attenborough’s assertion that the planet he saw as a young man has now changed beyond recognition. How terrible!

So alongside our worship of the God of Justice, we also see that we approach the climate crisis as followers of the Lord of All Creation who has created us and placed us in the world as members of the wider community of creation. If we truly believe, as the apostle Paul did, that all things have been created in and through and for Jesus, then we cannot sit idly by as those things are harmed and destroyed: we must respond and act.

In the final part of the series we will turn to God the Spirit, and consider the Spirit’s role in helping us as we seek to do that.

Bible/Theology, Environment

A Trinitarian Approach to the Climate Crisis – Part 1: a God of Justice

June 30, 2021

When I first started hearing scientists say something was going wrong with the climate (then called global warming), many years ago, it seemed obvious to me that this had a direct link with my Christian faith. My response to the unfolding crisis has always come from what I believe about God. Nonetheless, I still meet Christians today who tell me I’m jumping on a bandwagon.

So, I want to look at how caring for the whole creation goes to the heart of our Christian faith and at how it does so because it is rooted in the community of God in the Trinity. Over three blog posts I will consider different aspects of the three Persons of the Trinity and how we find our motivation in them. I know there is a danger in separating out the Trinity too simplistically – God is so intimately united that the different facets reach across the godhead. Nonetheless, I hope it is helpful to consider things in this way.

So let’s begin by asking a basic question: who is the God we worship?

Psalm 113 says this:

Praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord, you his servants;
praise the name of the Lord.
Let the name of the Lord be praised,
both now and forevermore.
From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets,
the name of the Lord is to be praised.

The Lord is exalted over all the nations,
his glory above the heavens.
Who is like the Lord our God,
the One who sits enthroned on high,
who stoops down to look
on the heavens and the earth?

He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes,
with the princes of his people.
He settles the childless woman in her home
as a happy mother of children.

Praise the Lord.

This Psalm tells us something so fundamental about who God is. Our God is the Almighty One, exalted above the nations, whose glory is above the heavens, incredible and huge – and yet, what is the characteristic that this Psalm gets rooted on? It’s the fact that God raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap.

The God we worship is a God of Justice who cares for the poor and takes action to change their circumstances.

This Psalm isn’t alone in what it declares – we see this theme of a God of Justice all the way through the Scriptures. In the Old Testament in God’s instructions to the kings, God emphasises righteousness, which is expressed through taking care of the widow, the stranger and the orphan, and practising justice, love and compassion. That’s how God expected the rulers to behave because it reflects who God is. In the prophets too, there is often a strong indictment against the people of Israel because they had walked away from God and were not practising social justice (selling the needy for a pair of sandals, practising dishonest trading standards, etc). We see it in the laws, for example those regarding the Jubilee – that every fifty years people’s debts were to be cancelled, and people set free to return to their homes.

We see it in Jesus’ message in response to the question, “Who is my neighbour?” in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Implicitly, the parable answers the question: our neighbour is the person beyond us, beyond our boundaries. But, as so often with Jesus, he doesn’t answer the question directly. Instead he turns it on its head and says “Who’s the neighbour? You are! So go and be a neighbour – to those close to you and to those beyond your natural boundaries.”

We see the outworking of worshipping a God who cares for people in poverty also in the practice of the early church as they collected money when there was famine and starvation, and we know that they developed such a reputation that even the emperors mentioned it – that they didn’t only care for their own poor, but they cared for the poor from other communities as well!

We are created in God’s image, and that manifests in two things relating to our God of Justice. One is the affirmation that all people are equal. That we are all created in God’s image is of the utmost importance. The other is akin to the neighbour point discussed above, which declares that you are God’s image, I am God’s image. So what does it mean to be and to act in the image of God? We come back again to these words: that God is a God who raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap. So in order to reflect God, we must also demonstrate that active concern for people who are living in poverty.

The environmental crisis is impacting the poorest the most, in the UK and around the world. In 2013, tragically, a 9-year-old girl called Ella died, and just a few months ago the coroner made a landmark ruling for the first time that one of the key reasons for her death was pollution. She grew up in inner-city London in an area of poverty, and was constantly surrounded by choking fumes. Pollution, food deserts, lack of access to green spaces, fuel poverty are just some of a whole range of different issues facing our poorest communities today in the UK.

If COVID-19 hadn’t happened last year, the biggest story of 2020 would undoubtedly have been that of our climate in crisis. 2020 was the joint hottest year on record, and it brought with it climate extremes – high temperatures, wildfires, locust plagues, floods, storms, droughts – all of that on an unprecedented scale. While the first lockdown did actually see global emissions drop by 7% (which coincidentally is also the amount by which we need to cut carbon emissions every year for the next decade), they are once again surging, and 2021 could be another record-breaking year for global temperatures. At Tearfund we’re seeing the impacts across the countries we work in. We hear day after day the consequences the environmental crisis is having on the poorest communities where we’re serving.

So we begin this three-part series by recognising that our faith is rooted in the Scriptures that tell us God is a God of Justice*, who raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap, and who calls us to do the same.

Next time, in Part II, we will focus on Jesus Christ, the Lord of All Creation.

*Another whole area of consideration is that of judgement and the (sometimes surprising) good news that judgement will come for those who ravage the earth and destroy people’s lives, and justice will be done. But I have chosen not to explore that more fully here.

Environment

Planet Protectors! Special Launch Event

June 21, 2021

My new book is out!! Aimed at 7-9 year olds, and co-written with the brilliant comedian and BBC script writer, Paul KerensaPlanet Protectors: 52 ways to look after God’s world is jam-packed with interesting facts, Biblical bits and practical tips. It’s a funny, informative and empowering guide for children on looking after the world and all its inhabitants.

And this Saturday (June 26, 10.30-11.30am UK time) we have a short online launch event featuring CBeebies presenter Joanna Adeyinke-Burford. The event will include fun games and activities for all the family to enjoy. You’ll learn lots of exciting facts about the world around us and why it’s so important to take care of it, and get some top tips on how you can also be a Planet Protector.

It’ll be perfect for kids, grandkids, parents, grandparents, kids workers, schools workers…. If you’re in any of those categories or know someone who is, tell them about it and come along yourself!

SIGN UP HERE

Here’s more about the book from SPCK:

‘In a lively, entertaining style Ruth Valerio and Paul Kerensa offer 52 fantastic ideas for looking after the world – from cycling more and choosing fair-trade, to taking shorter showers and recycling. Children will love taking up a different challenge each week and be inspired to join the fight for the planet’s future as they learn about why it is so important to care for the environment and God’s creation.

With quirky illustrations perfect for colouring in throughout, Planet Protectors is an ideal book for 7- to 9-year-old children beginning to read independently. It is also a brilliant resource for parents and guardians to open up conversations with children about environmental sustainability, and for primary schools, Sunday schools and youth workers teaching about the environment.

Encourage and empower your children to see how they can make a difference and look after the world by becoming Planet Protectors.’

BUY THE BOOK HERE

Uncategorized

No Peace Without Justice – Guest post from Mariam Tadros on the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd

May 25, 2021

Remembering and memory are an essential part of our human experience. Many of us will have moments in our lives, rhythms of memory – either in family, community or nation – that ground us in where we’ve come from: pivotal moments in our lives that we still need to go to in order to remember.
Doing so pushes us to search deep in our souls at the moments of injustice we remember that lead us to say never again.


Reflecting on the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, I want to draw us to Psalm 85 and what Lederach calls the meeting place of reconciliation. Reconciliation is that end goal we work towards but that often feels out of reach. Psalm 85 says: ‘Truth and Mercy have met together. Justice and Peace have kissed’.


This meeting place, this image shows the dance between these four elements that must all coexist to move towards reconciliation. Truth, Mercy, Justice and Peace. We heard time and time again in the protest chants over the last year: No justice no peace. And the truth of that holds so true when facing into issues of racial injustice. There cannot be any peace where injustice has not been addressed or truth told. If we want to believe in this image of reconciliation – that we want to all be one in Christ, all made in his image – and move towards reconciliation, then we have to understand and dismantle injustice through truth telling and mercy.


In order to move towards unity and reconciliation, truth must be told, racist systems dismantled and mercy shown towards the pain of the past. In a prayer we have prayed at Tearfund, we have spoken these words: ‘We have left the roots of injustice intact’. We can’t grieve the death of George Floyd and not speak about dismantling the systems that led to his murder, that made it ok for a police office to place his knee on a man’s neck until he was begging for breath – systems that continue to uphold inequality and inequitable access. Or if you’re praying for the peace of Jerusalem right now, you also need to be a part of the struggle for justice, freedom and human rights for Palestine.

Justice and truth lead us to recognise and dismantle oppressive unjust systems. Mercy and peace give the ability to restore and rebuild. In the Gospel of John, Jesus calls us to ‘abide in the vine’ and if we want to do that, we must know who we’re abiding in. Jesus embodied this meeting place. Jesus ‘woe’d to you’ to those that had become oppressive; he spoke out truth to religious and political oppression; he sought justice through non-violent action and restoring dignity to the marginalised; he forgave those who caused his murder on the cross, and he prayed for the peace of Jerusalem. Jesus stood up both to his own and to the occupying power and named the failing institutions and systems. He sought to help those around him imagine and create a new way of belonging. 


There is so much in the world that requires us – requires the church – to dismantle, to restore, to speak truth on. We must stop pretending that ‘both siding’ equals seeking unity. When injustice is at play, ‘both siding’ always protects the oppressor – because of the power they hold. We must stop pretending that neutrality in these situations is the peaceful response – its not, it’s complicity. Why? Because it is literally killing people. Police brutality, racist attacks in the street, oppressive regimes, occupations and governments, elitist systems of governance and capitalism that marginalise entire people groups (pushing them into poverty), the hypocrisy of nuclear and arms aid and trade (cutting funding to programs in Yemen and Myanmar but still managing to send 3.8 billion worth of nuclear and military arms to the occupying force) vs development aid. All of this is killing people and we cannot stay neutral.

“Stopping violence, calming things down, and reaching a ceasefire must never be the goal of peace activists. The radical / relentless engagement in dismantling all systems of oppression (even in times of alleged “peace”) is the goal.“ Sami Awad


So today, as we remember the murder of George Floyd and all the racially motivated murders, oppression and brutality that he represents; as we hold in our minds the current conflicts and upheaval happening across the world, let us find the righteous anger that Jesus, the vine, modeled. This is an anger that speaks truth and mercy to power; that offers a different way of equity and justice; that dignifies and brings restoration to the oppressed, and that works towards a deep peace that is discontent with just ceasefires but that lays the foundations for wholeness and restoration in living.


If you really want to abide in Jesus of Nazareth, get angry. Turn over some tables. Speak up against the religious institutions and painful theologies that are complicit in the oppression of people. Find ways to non-violently protest the living legacy of racism, colonialism, xenophobia, militarism, occupation, state sanctioned violence, terrorism (of all kinds), islamaphobia, homophobia, anti-semitism and police brutality. 


In the pursuit of justice, let’s make space for the voice and truth of the oppressed, the silenced and the marginalised to be heard. And let’s work towards finding mercy in the midst of the cycles of trauma and grief and violence that live and breath in our lands. Only then can we declare true peace. And let us ask that we might together have the courage to live in that tension, that meeting place, where: ‘Truth and Mercy have met together. Justice and Peace have kissed’.

Mariam Tadros speaks out of her experience working at Tearfund on peace and reconciliation in some of the most conflict-ridden places in the world. She is soon to be Regional Director – Global programmes at International Alert. Her words were first given to Tearfund staff at our weekly global prayer gathering.

Bible/Theology, Environment, Videos

Community and Climate in the UK – why the environmental crisis is a poverty issue locally as well as globally

May 12, 2021

If you’ve ever thought taking action on the environmental crisis is a middle-class preoccupation with little relevance to low socio-economic communities in the UK – think again. This talk, given at the Eden Network and The Message Trust Proximity Conference tackles that misconception, looking at how environment and economic poverty in the UK are interrelated (too often along race and gender lines), and at how the Church can respond as we invite people to be part of the redemptive mission of God. I hope it’s helpful to you in your context.