Bible/Theology, Environment

Church and Community 5: The Cross

April 1, 2014

world-cross-shadowSo DOES the church have anything to offer when it comes to building local sustainable communities or should we just hang up our coats and recognise that others simply do it better?

I hope over the course of this little series I’ve been able to show that, whilst we do need a heavy dose of humility and recognition of where we haven’t got it right, there is so much within our theological underpinnings that we can bring to the table, including the Incarnation, eschatology, and anthropology. Christians have a unique faith and, therefore, unique emphases that we carry with us.

Perhaps one of the things that makes us most unique is the Christian emphasis on the cross: on the fact that the God we follow became a human being and allowed himself to be killed in order to put back to rights all that had gone wrong in the world, between humans and God, between humans themselves, and between humans and the wider creation.

The bottom line, therefore, is that we follow a sacrificial God: a God who was prepared to empty himself and take up his cross, and who asks his followers to do the same.[1]

When it comes to sustainability this is crucial. Yesterday’s report from the IPCC only served to highlight again how serious the problems are and how urgently we need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. All the current thinking says we should be cutting our current carbon emissions by 80-90% in as short a time as possible. The Stockholm Institute’s much-discussed work on the nine planetary boundaries says that we are in serious trouble if just one boundary is crossed, and yet three may have been crossed already.

Sometimes our talk of sustainability gives the impression that if we eat a bit less meat, cycle a bit more, turn the thermostat down by a degree and recycle our carrier bags then all will be okay. Well, the sad news is it won’t. If we are going to take seriously the need to reduce our emissions by 90% then that will impact us. B.I.G. T.I.M.E. There is no easy way to say this: we are going to have to make sacrifices.

That isn’t a message that people like, me included. I want my comfort and my convenience and I don’t really want to be told that I might have to do without some things for the sake of other people and the wider creation. For all the good of the Transition Movement (and I do believe it is very good), it still gives the impression of nice people installing solar panels, eating delicious local food and, generally, making their lives a bit nicer for themselves. Transformation won’t happen like that.

So if you are reading this as a Christian, what does it mean for you to pick up your cross and follow Jesus? What sacrifices do we need to make in order to live more simply so that others and the wider natural world might simply live? What are some of the changes and choices that you (and me) will need to make in our lives?

If, as Christians, we can allow our faith to impact our own lives in this way, then maybe our emphasis on the cross gives us something else we can offer to others who are also trying to build sustainable communities.

What do you think?


[1] Of course, the cross is incomplete without the resurrection and we follow a resurrected, sacrificial God. But, it’s time for me to bring this series to a close and leave it to someone else to pick up that theme if they so desire…!

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  • Reply Does the Church have ANYTHING to offer local community? | Ruth Valerio April 1, 2014 at 12:13 pm

    […] The Cross […]

  • Reply Andy Kingston-Smith April 2, 2014 at 6:08 am

    Reblogged this on and commented:
    The latest post (part 5) by Ruth Valerio in her series of reflective writings, following on from the church and Sustainable communities conference at Redcliffe College, Gloucester last month.

  • Reply simonwatkinson April 2, 2014 at 9:05 pm

    Hi Ruth. I agree with what you’re saying and the need to be realistic about the scale of the challenge and enormity of the response required – do you think it is possible to give an accurate portrayal of the problem without inducing a sense of powerlessness and hopelessness in ordinary people (as distinguished from those holding positions of influence/decision making in these areas)? Simon

  • Reply ruthvalerio April 3, 2014 at 10:57 am

    and of course those holding positions of influence and decision making also feel pretty powerless and hopeless overall… It’s a good question though and one that I struggle with in my speaking on these issues. What I always come down to in the end is that our ultimate motivator for action isn’t about whether or not we will make a difference (although it’s great when that happens – and it does!) but what’s the right thing to do and how do we want to live – do we want to live greedy and selfish lives, or do we want to live in ways that are thoughtful, caring, connected with the wider world etc etc?

  • Reply Leslie Barker April 5, 2014 at 7:02 pm

    I have known about JRI for many years but this is te first time I have logged on .I write about architecture from a Christian viewpoint, and distinctively Christian doctrines are a vital part, so thanks for your Part 5. My website is currently off-line but I am trying to write a Christian response to the flood disaster following ‘The Big Issue’ pulishing my letter. (March 3-9 2014)

    • Reply ruthvalerio April 6, 2014 at 7:45 am

      you’re welcome Leslie, nice to hear from you here.

  • Reply jonbadcock5 April 18, 2014 at 8:39 pm

    Just a thought, maybe unsustainable individuality has taught the church more about itself. The church which has after been complicit in the industrialisation and warfare contributing to the present environmental crisis. You mentioned humility, and also perhaps openness and respect to all who work for change. And what about greater willingness to accept the biblical teachings about justice and peace. Not much to brag about here, but then it never was about bragging, as you suggested in an earlier reply, it is about the joy that comes from descovering how to live unselfishly.

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