Bible/Theology, Covid-19, Environment, Videos

Religion, Worldviews and Animals

May 20, 2022

For my whole adult life I have been considering how my Christian faith informs what I think about and how I interact with the wider natural world. What does being a follower of Jesus mean for the way I treat the rest of his creation? What are the implications for our relationships with animals? Should we eat meat? What does a sustainable future for the world look like? Where does the Covid-19 pandemic come into all this?

In the video below I discuss these and other questions with Prof Dr Pim Martens of Maastricht University in the Netherlands, so do take a look.

Bible/Theology, Environment, Green living

Pig ignorant to egg head: how I learnt to live more simply

January 12, 2022

WHISKING up an egg, I headed into the bathroom to wash my hair as my family looked on in amusement. I was experimenting using egg for shampoo in an effort to find a more ethical alternative to conventional haircare products: beauty with a conscience and without the plastic.

My journey to live lightly and care for God’s creation is one that I’ve been on all my adult life. It started after reading Whose Earth? by Chris Seaton (Crossway Books) at university, which detailed the biblical case for caring for the world — including that most famous of verses John 3.16, which does not single out human beings, but refers to the whole world: the cosmos. I started to see caring for the planet, as well as for people, as an integral part of my worship of the one who had created it all.

Since then, there have been many twists and turns in the path I have taken; more experiments than I can name, and much laughter among my family as I have walked, deliberately, often falteringly, towards a lifestyle in which I am trying to honour all that God has made.

Does that mean I always get it right, or that there is nothing else I can learn, or do? Definitely not. But I believe that doing something is always better than doing nothing, which is why the motto that I have adopted over the years is: “Many little steps in the right direction”.

WHEN considering what everyday Christian environmentalism has meant for me, it is clear that over the years we have explored and made decisions about all sorts of things — some big, some small, some that were for a season, and others that led to changes that became a normal part of our lives. (Yes, I do still sometimes wash my hair with an egg.)

One of our early most important watershed moments included getting a weekly organic veg box from a local producer, and learning that vegetables came in all sorts of shapes and sizes, covered in earth, and dictated by the seasons. Rather than mindlessly doing a food shop, we started to feel a connection to the wider environment.

Then, for many years, we were part of a pig co-operative, which I started with friends from church — eating our own meat and making our own bacon and sausages — and, as a result, thinking more about animal welfare and what animals are fed.

We stopped being involved in this only when we had reduced our meat consumption so much that, moving towards a plant-based diet (which creates less carbon and methane emissions), it no longer made sense to be involved.

In the energy department, we moved to a provider of 100-per-cent-renewable energy early on, and later were able to install solar panels.

We wanted to ensure that our money was looked after ethically as well; so we switched our bank account and savings to providers who were not investing in fossil fuels and other extractive industries, and my pension is in an ethical fund.

More recently, I got an electric car, which I love. While, of course, it is complicated, in general it is thought to be better to switch to electric rather than keep a petrol/diesel car running, and now there is a good market in second hand EVs. I couldn’t afford to buy my car outright; so I got it on a monthly lease, which makes it doable.

Over the past few years we’ve also reduced the plastic we buy as a household, using Lent as a focus for this, which is where my Plastic Less Living Facebook group came from; a way to invite others to join on this journey.

LEARNING and trying things out within the context of a family has been fun, but also challenging: working out how to live ethically on a low income, and wanting to bring up two girls in a planet-friendly way that doesn’t make them feel weird and stand out from their friends.

Negotiating adverts, fast fashion, Christmas, and social-media pressure is an ongoing challenge, and something to be worked out together rather than imposed. But seeking to live in a way that cares for God’s creation has led us to establish some important principles for the way we do life:

Get informed. We cannot make a difference to something we don’t know is a problem or don’t understand. Many issues are complex, and it takes time to find out the relevant information and become knowledgeable.

We can learn much online and from others. I have written extensively for adults and children on what I have learnt along the way, including L is for Lifestyle: Christian living that doesn’t cost the earth, and Planet Protectors! 52 ways to look after God’s world, for families and children.

Ethical organisations such as Ethical Consumer can also provide us with the relevant facts to assist us in our decision making. All this can help to develop an “ethical instinct”, allowing us — without always knowing the ins and outs of everything — to discern the kinds of things to look out for, and get a sense for when something bears the hallmarks of being genuinely environmentally friendly.

Journey with others. I always seek to do things in with other people, in community, learning and making mistakes together rather than go down the path of self-sufficiency, which can lead to isolation and discouragement.

You are far more likely to keep going if you’re in it together with others. This was one of the reasons our pig co-operative worked so well, and this attitude has been applied to all sorts of other things: from having an allotment with friends, to the Plastic Less Living group.

Focusing on what one can do rather than what is not possible is really important, too. We all live and operate in different circumstances, and we mustn’t beat ourselves up for the things that we can’t do in our particular situation. We live in a fallen world where we cannot achieve perfection, and feeling guilty disempowers us and makes us less effective.

At the same time, we should not be constrained by what we think we can’t do. Finding solutions that prioritise people and planet is often about being creative and thinking outside the box. I live in a terraced house on a council estate; finding ways to grow my own veg and keep pigs definitely required some imagination.

There is almost always something more we can do, even if small and seemingly insignificant.

Hold the micro and the macro together. Most of the time there will be incremental changes that we can make in our daily lives, and those things all add up. But every once in a while there are bigger decisions to be made, where we have the opportunity to make a real impact with one important choice — whether that’s a new piece of technology, this year’s summer holiday, or buying a new car or home.

If we take time to think carefully, and weigh up the different factors in these more significant moments, we can make as much difference with one choice as many other small ones put together.

Likewise, as well as the individual decisions we make, it is vitally important that we are calling on our governments, businesses and global institutions to be taking the actions that will bring about the large-scale, systemic change.

The two are connected: our individual decisions not only make a small difference in themselves, but also send messages to governments and businesses that, as citizens and consumers, this is how we want them to behave, too.

We can make that message stronger by telling them what we want, and letting them know when we change. For example, if you change your bank, contact your old bank and tell them why you are leaving them.

Consider the cost. The assumption is that greener options are available only to those on a certain income, because these choices and products are more expensive than their mainstream counterparts. What I have found is that, while individual ethical products often do cost more (because we are paying the real and fair cost for them), when we begin to reframe our whole lives in this way, living more sustainably costs less overall.

One of the natural behaviour changes is that you buy less in general (reducing our consumption being the most important thing we can do), and eating a less processed, more plant-based diet is not expensive.

With some things, the upfront expense is more, but you spend less thereafter. This applies to all sorts of things, from reusable sanitary products and nappies, to Fairphones and clothes.

Sustainable products are made to last, and so don’t need replacing all the time, which means that not only can you enjoy nicer-quality things, but you can also save a fortune in the long run. This is backed by research that suggests that the Minimum Income Standard, which is the income needed to have an acceptable standard of living in the UK, is reduced when people have a more ecological lifestyle.

THESE are just some of the changes that have emerged, as my lifestyle has adapted to try to live in a way that least damages others, and the wider natural world and that might even help. Instead of being a chore and a bind, the journey of living more lightly has been a joy and a delight.

Of course, I am a child of the consumer age, and I’ve no doubt that that has an impact on me more than I care to admit. Putting God before material wealth is a lifelong battle.

Yet, I hope that the earth and its inhabitants — people, ecosystems, and other creatures — have benefited from these efforts. Alongside that, I have benefited, too, as I have increasingly stepped into the life to which God calls his followers: to care for his precious creation.

This article was first published by the CHURCH TIMES, and is reproduced here with permission.

Environment, Videos

COP26: progress, but still far from justice

November 16, 2021

The UN climate talks have taken some steps forward, but fallen short of justice for the most vulnerable.

The world’s eyes have been on Glasgow as the much-anticipated climate talks have unfolded. As they draw to a close – having overrun as leaders struggled to reach agreement – we reflect on a fortnight that has seen some progress, but not yet justice, for the most vulnerable nations on the key issues of limiting global heating to 1.5°C and providing financial support for those hardest hit by the climate crisis.

Moving the dial on temperature rise
We came into COP26 on a trajectory towards a devastating 2.7°C of warming, and calling for world leaders to get on track for the safer level and agreed target of 1.5°C. Official country climate plans have now shifted the dial slightly and put us on a trajectory for 2.4°C. And if all the promises made during COP26 were to be kept – including pledges to end and reverse deforestation and reduce methane emissions – warming could be kept to below 2°C.

But right now these are just words. And while remaining within 2°C of warming would limit the worst effects of the climate crisis, every fraction of a degree matters to people on the frontline. For millions of vulnerable people, it could mean the difference between life and death. Nations have been asked to return next year with stronger plans. We must do everything we can to hold the leaders of high-emitting nations to account for delivering these plans and targets for rapid, deep and sustained emissions cuts in line with 1.5°C.

Nails in the coffin for fossil fuels – but not enough
We cannot stay within 1.5°C without phasing out coal, oil and gas. Over the last fortnight we’ve seen more nails in the coffin for polluting fossil fuels. Almost 40 nations and institutions have committed to end overseas public finance for coal, oil and gas by the end of 2022, something we have campaigned for. If fully implemented, this could shift at least $24 billion a year out of fossil fuels and into clean energy. We welcome this progress. Yet, we urgently need to see more high-emitting countries commit to end support for coal, oil and gas if we are to consign fossil fuels to the history books.

Falling short on financial responsibilities
Climate-vulnerable countries have been clear in their calls for richer nations to provide the finance they need to meet their own climate targets and adjust to the impacts of climate change – as well as to pay for the suffering caused (known as ‘loss and damage’).

Perhaps most disappointing of all, on this issue wealthy nations have fallen far short. They failed to commit to anywhere near the level of new financial support that’s needed. And they failed to agree concrete action on how they will meet long-overdue commitments, such as the $100 billion per year promised back in 2009. In the months ahead, wealthy countries must be held to account to step up to their responsibilities.

Christians speaking up for change
While the talks themselves have fallen short on many issues, COP26 has been about far more than just the negotiations. It’s been about movements of people coming together to create change. We have seen more people speak up for climate justice than ever before, with Christians all over the world rising up and playing their part.

On Saturday 6 November, thousands of people took to the streets of Glasgow, London and other cities across the UK – as part of the COP26 Day of Action – to raise their voices, and hundreds of Tearfund supporters were among them.

Tearfund supporter Stuart, who marched in Manchester, said: ‘I wanted to say thank you for the encouragement to participate in a climate march on Saturday. We enjoyed the conversations and connections.’

Catherine, who joined the London march, told us: ‘My first-ever march! Loved the way that by the time we got to Trafalgar Square the Tearfund placards had mingled with placards from many other groups – like salt and light in the world.’

You can watch our video of highlights from the 6 November Day of Action here.

Hundreds of churches also joined in our online COP26 Church Service on Sunday 7 November, the halfway point of the talks. Jenny, whose church hosted a service, shared: ‘The talk… addressed head on the reasons why this issue should matter to Christians and this is something that I haven’t heard articulated so clearly before. Thank you – I feel it helped to stir some of our church congregation to pray with more passion.’

The challenge ahead
We came into COP26 calling for world leaders to close the gap to 1.5°C and deliver climate justice for the most vulnerable. We give thanks for the progress we have seen, but we lament that the talks have fallen short of delivering justice and a safer future for millions of people.

Kuki Rokhum, Tearfund partner in India, summed up her reflections: ‘The Glasgow talks have not secured a 1.5°C future but we march on because we need justice for the poorest communities and indigenous peoples around the world whose lives and homes are being destroyed by extreme weather, droughts and floods. And we walk in faith that things can change. Together we each carry with us a hope that we will see action, not just words, from this UN climate summit. The time to act was yesterday, but we still have today.’

We also came into COP26 knowing the work would not end in Glasgow. Climate justice won’t be achieved by a single person, decision or conference – but millions of us will continue to play our part and demand that world leaders play theirs. We will continue to pray, to act, to hold leaders to account and to call for justice. And we will continue to walk by faith and keep our eyes fixed on God who can do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine.

Please continue to pray for:

  • those who will be most affected by the decisions made at COP26, whose daily lives are being impacted by the climate crisis
  • leaders of high-emitting nations to step up urgently with stronger plans and short-term targets for emissions cuts in line with 1.5°C
  • restoration, fresh vision and hope for those who tirelessly campaign and speak up for climate justice

Visit www.tearfund.org/action for information, ideas and resources to help you continue to take action on the climate crisis.

This article was first published on the Tearfund website. With thanks to Julia Kendal, Jane Boswell and the Tearfund advocacy team for their help with it.

Bible/Theology, Environment

Why COP26 matters – a Christian perspective

October 28, 2021

Here’s what you need to know about why the UN climate summit COP26 matters and what role you can play.

In just a few days’ time, leaders from across the globe will gather in Glasgow for a meeting that will shape our future. Here’s what you need to know about why it matters and what role we can play.

Climate emergency?
The world is reeling from months of extreme weather events. Wildfires of an unprecedented scale have swept across Greece, Turkey and California. China has experienced its worst flooding in over a thousand years. Europe has also seen devastating floods, and North America has been scorched by a record-breaking heatwave.

In the midst of these events, a landmark United Nations report in August gave its starkest warning yet that we’re facing a climate emergency. We’re on course for catastrophic global temperature rises that will put our whole world at risk – and the impacts are accelerating.

Against this backdrop the UK will host the United Nations’ annual climate summit – known as COP26 – in Glasgow in November. This event, delayed for a year due to Covid, has long been regarded as of crucial importance, as it’s the first time countries will have to set out concrete plans for reaching the emission-reduction targets they set five years ago at the Paris conference. COP26 is a make-or-break moment for our world.

World leaders must seize the opportunity and act with urgency. Most importantly, they must put the world on course to limit global warming to 1.5°C. Every fraction of a degree matters. And as hosts, the UK has a unique opportunity to push for an ambitious outcome.

But what’s this got to do with Tearfund, or the church?

A beautiful yet broken world
First, the Bible tells us that creation was made through Jesus and for Jesus (Colossians 1:16). That’s a stunning declaration of our planet’s worth. The Son of God loves this beautiful world that exists in him, and we are called to care for it. But the climate crisis is wreaking havoc, intensifying threats such as extreme weather events, sea-level rise, melting glaciers and biodiversity loss. Scientists are clear that this is a human-made problem, driven by the burning of fossil fuels. As God’s image-bearers, we can’t stand by while our common home is being destroyed.

An issue of justice
Second, in my work with Tearfund I see all too clearly the devastating impact of climate breakdown on people in poverty. As global temperatures rise, rains are becoming less reliable and droughts, floods and storms are becoming more frequent and extreme. Across much of sub-Saharan Africa, for example, the weather is swinging between extreme floods and extreme droughts. That affects food production and is putting millions at risk of hunger.

For those who are already vulnerable, this is a life-threatening emergency that is pushing them further into poverty. Without radical action, climate change will push 132 million more people into poverty this decade. It’s those least responsible for the climate crisis who are the most affected. This is a colossal injustice.

The church cannot ignore this crisis which is causing so much suffering to people living in poverty. God calls us to meet their needs – in so doing to help build his kingdom on earth.

The church’s call
Oscar Danladi from the Jos Green Centre in Nigeria shared with us how climate change is affecting his city in Plateau state, and how he thinks the church should respond:

‘Jos used to be known as the “garden city” because of its weather and green spaces. Over the years things have changed. Many trees have been cut down and water sources run dry. The weather has changed – it used to be cool and temperate, now it is harsh. My father’s a farmer. His crop yields aren’t as good as he used to get, and it’s impacted his income.

‘As Christians we need to understand that creation care is a gospel issue, and an issue of justice. The church needs to know that we are all neighbours, that what we do impacts each other. Churches across the world have the potential to hold those in power to account and demand change.’

What can we do?
If we want to see an end to extreme poverty, we have to tackle the climate crisis. As followers of Jesus, it’s part of how we must work out our faith today. But what can we do?

First, it’s right and appropriate to lament the destruction and injustice of the climate crisis, to recognise where we, as individuals, nations, businesses and the church, have fallen short and to repent of our part in it.

Importantly, we can pray – for those already impacted by the crisis and for world leaders to recognise the need to take immediate action. Prayer is crucial if we’re to see a breakthrough in this crisis, and God is powerful beyond anything we can imagine. Find resources here to help you pray.

We can speak up – and call on UK leaders to act urgently to get us on track to limiting warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. This is the agreed global target and, according to the August IPCC report, still possible if widespread cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are made in the next few years. With COP26 taking place on Scottish soil, Christians in the UK have a unique opportunity to call on world leaders to play their part. There’s a petition you can sign here.

We can also make changes in our own lives, such as reducing our energy consumption and our waste, and thinking more carefully about what we buy. When we show by our actions that we want to live in a fairer, more sustainable world, we are caring for our global neighbours and valuing what God has given us.

We’d also love to invite you and your church to join with churches throughout the UK in our COP26 Church Service on Sunday 7 November, when Pete Greig, Carol Ng’ang’a and Celtic Worship will lead us in a powerful, climate-focused service during the middle weekend of COP26. The video content will be available in different segments, so your church can choose how to integrate it into your service. Find out more and register your interest here.

For other ways to take action, as well as resources to help get your small group or church involved, visit our Reboot campaign page.

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.