Blue Planet Living

December 10, 2017

Let’s get two things out of the way right at the start as we reach the end of the amazing Blue Planet 2 series. Yes, the problems highlighted in this final episode – particularly plastic pollution, climate change and overfishing – are huge and feel insurmountable. And yes, a lot of the problems are caused by other countries and industries, and not only by those of us who have been watching. Now let’s move on.

What David Attenborough and the incredible team at the BBC have done for us is provide us with a vision of what our seas and oceans should be like: healthy and teeming with life; colourful, vibrant ecosystems full of creatures and patterns beyond our wildest imaginations (a fish that can see through the top of its head? No way!); weaving, spinning, jumping, flying around each other.

As I’ve been watching Blue Planet 2, each episode has hinted at the devastating consequences our human activities are having on this beautiful part of the world. I can hardly make it through to the end of this last episode, even with the positive stories that are bringing hope; the knowledge of what we are doing is almost too much to bear.

A drop in the ocean
But we CAN do something about it. We really really can. And there are three very obvious things we can all do now as Blue Planet 2 concludes. The waters we’ve been marveling at over our Sunday evenings come from billions of tiny drops. Each one of us, with each of the actions we take, can be a drop too, building a wave of momentum that creates a sea-change in our attitudes and turns the tide on the fate of our seas and oceans. As Attenborough says, ‘we have a responsibility to care for our blue planet. The future of humanity, and indeed all life on Earth, now depends on us.’ So what can we do to help?

1. Reduce your plastic
Seriously people, the time has come for us to do something about this. There are so many simple things we can do to make some big reductions: don’t buy any more single-use plastic bottles (just don’t. full stop.). Use soap and shampoo bars. Try to buy things in bulk rather than in smaller individual bags. Become aware of the problem of microplastic pollution from synthetic clothing. Avoid cosmetics with microbeads, and ladies, ditch the tampons with plastic applicators (check this out). Finally, keep nagging your favourite shops to reduce unnecessary packaging.

2. Take action on climate change
As sea temperatures continue to rise due to climate change, causing massive problems for all sea creatures great and small (and for the humans too who depend on the seas for their food and livelihoods), it becomes clear that if we want to look after our seas and oceans then we have to tackle climate change. We can do that in two ways. Firstly, take steps to live in ways that consume less energy (eat more plant and grain-based meals, have more holidays that don’t involve flying, get out of your car more etc), and secondly, let’s push our global leaders to turn the historic promises they made in the Paris Agreement in 2015 into reality. You can do that here, through an excellent campaign called Renew Our World.

3. Eat your fish well
This is quite easy really, we just need to make a decision to do it and stick to it. The basic rule is, when buying wild fish or seafood, only buy it if it carries the Marine Stewardship Council logo on it. This blue fish-tick logo is your guarantee that the fish or seafood comes from a sustainable source (and includes things like tinned tuna as well as fresh produce). If you’ve never seen it before, you will now suddenly notice it when you’re in the fish aisle! If you’re buying farmed fish, make sure it is at least RSPCA certified, preferably organic if you can.

(Photo by Wexor Tmg on Unsplash)


Jesus cared about food waste

September 2, 2017

One of the privileges of being a Christian is being able to join with others across the world in praying the Lord’s prayer and asking our Father to give us our daily bread.

And yet we now know that each month, we throw away enough bread from our homes to fill St Paul’s Cathedral to the brim.

It’s not just bread either. When you add up all the perfectly edible food we bin from our homes – fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy, even in-date foods – it comes to £470 per household each year.

In a world where so many are hungry, this surely can’t be right. And the injustice doesn’t end there.

Food waste is now more of a hot topic thanks to campaigns by high profile people such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver, but how many of us are aware of the link between food waste and climate change? Our current food system is inefficient, and the greenhouse gases emitted from growing, farming, processing, transporting and disposing of our food are huge.

We throw away enough food from our homes each year to fill Wembley Stadium nine times over and these are needless emissions that contribute to climate change.

Tearfund sees first hand that this is making life harder for people in some of the world’s poorest countries – leading to droughts, floods and less reliable rain, and leaving people struggling to feed themselves. If we continue to live in a way that brings harm rather than renewal, families will be pushed further into poverty across the world.

Jesus shows us another way to live. We see his act of lavish generosity in the feeding of the 5,000 and we learn about God’s gift of food, but that’s not the end of the lesson. The leftovers are an important part of the story. Jesus asks his disciples to gather up what is left. He says ‘Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.’ (John 6:12)

Picking up the leftovers is a vital part of the story, a part that can often be overlooked. In picking up the leftovers there is a key discipleship lesson here: waste matters. Jesus doesn’t just say, ‘Ah, leave it, surely the birds will eat it.’ This food is valuable and although plenty is left over, it is worth the energy and effort of collection.

Together we can gather up the pieces. If every single one of us eliminated our avoidable food waste at home, we could save emissions equivalent to taking one in four cars off the road in the UK. As consumers, reducing our food waste is one of the simplest things we can do to live more sustainably, and as customers, we can also encourage our retailers to play their part too. The combined impact of lots of people living differently can make a big difference, and shows supermarkets and governments that food waste is an issue that matters to them.

This is why I’m inviting you to get involved and take Tearfund’s Renew Our Food pledge to reduce your food waste at home, and also call on your supermarket to do the same. We’re also hosting a number of delicious Food Waste Feasts across the UK, and encouraging churches to host these too, using food that would otherwise go to waste.

Let us follow Jesus’ example and let nothing be wasted. Please get involved with this: put your faith into action and pledge to renew our food today. www.tearfund.org/foodwaste

(This article first appeared on Christian Today here)


Eucharist and Famine: feeding and being fed

March 19, 2017

I found the taking of Communion a struggle today. As we prepared to receive the bread and wine, we thanked our Father for his good gifts; declared that Jesus is the bread of life; prayed for our daily bread, and remembered that, because we all share in one bread, we are brought into the worldwide body of Christ.

But as I sat and waited my turn to go up to the altar rail, one question ran through my mind: did eating this Eucharistic bread have any relevance to the sixteen million people in East Africa who currently have no daily bread and literally nothing to eat?

The Gospel reading – as many of you will know – was John 4 and the story of Jesus’ meeting and conversation with an unnamed woman at Jacob’s well. I went to the Cathedral for this third Sunday of Lent and the service was crafted around water and helped us make some links between the everyday thirst that Jesus was experiencing that particular day; the severe drought that has in large part caused the current terrible famine (along with the impacts of conflict and political failure), and the recognition that Jesus is the water of eternal life.

All over the world, followers of Jesus have today eaten bread together, in a global act of remembering, sharing and committing. You are probably one of those people.

At the same time, millions have faced another day with no food.

I believe that the act of taking Communion binds us inextricably with those millions. In eating the bread and drinking the wine we are taken out of a sole focus on ourselves and brought into the body of the one who died to bring reconciliation and destroy the dividing walls that stand between us. There can be no reconciliation whilst some of us eat plenty and others of us eat nothing. It is a situation we mustn’t ignore as Christians (as Paul’s words of warning in 1 Corinthians 11 make clear).

But in eating the bread and drinking the wine, something else happens. The theologian William Cavanaugh puts it like this: ‘In the Eucharist, Christ is gift, giver, and recipient. We are neither merely active nor passive, but we participate in the divine life so that we are fed and simultaneously become food for others’.

As we are fed, we become food for others. How can that be? The taking of Communion feeds us, refreshes us, replenishes us, re-invigorates us, and we take those gifts – the bread of Jesus, the wine of the new covenant, the water of life – and offer it to others: through what we say, through what we do, through how we live.

Each of us will do that in our own ways, but today I ask you to do something specifically to respond to the situation in East Africa:

  1. Please give financially to the DEC (Disasters Emergency Committee) appeal that is running.
  1. Climate change has been a leading cause of the severe drought. Please do one thing to help in this area (I want to be neither simplistic nor prescriptive here so what you do is up to you).
  1. Please pray: for rain; for those working to help on the ground; for conflicts to cease; for governments to work well, and of course for those directly affected.

May we who share Christ’s body live his risen life;

            we who drink his cup bring life to others;

            we whom the Spirit lights give light to the world.



Daniel and the Papaya Trees

January 8, 2017

Last week I planted a papaya tree on the shamba (small farmstead, about 6 acres) of an amazing man called Daniel. Having been invited out by the Diocese of the Rift Valley to talk to them about environmental issues, I’ve been in Kilimatinde – a village in the Singida region of Tanzania, the poorest area in the country. Yesterday we walked from Kilimatinde down into the Great Rift Valley, to where Daniel lives with his wife, Theresea, and his four year-old daughter, Daniella.

Daniel has lived on and worked his shamba for all his adult life but just took ownership of it a few months ago. It is already producing a variety of crops: as he walked us round I saw sweet potatoes; chillies; cashew, mango, papaya, moringa and boabab trees, and he rears pigs. But he has big plans to develop the land – in particular to increase his papaya production so he can sell them in the city.

In many ways it felt idyllic as we spent a special seven hours together, sitting in the shade of a large mango tree, drinking soda and having lunch, cooking cashew nuts and discussing politics and theology. Before (literally) climbing back up the escarpment, Daniel brought out his guitar and we sat together and sang songs (including a Matt Redman worship song!), and listened as he sang his wife a love song that he had written for her. At the end of our day together, I planted a papaya tree, to help Daniel with his 160 new trees.

But as we walked around his land and listened to him talk, one question loomed over us frighteningly: when will it rain?

His land is dying. The fruit on the papaya and mango trees are not growing properly. The cashew nuts aren’t swelling as they should do. His piglets are skinny. And his field of chilli plants have all withered and died. The rains are late, and with each passing day the situation gets worse.

Daniel is amazingly enterprising and hard working. He has been building a well that will help with the water problem. Literally building it. By himself. One shovel at a time. He cut the big rocks himself, carried them by hand to the well and put them into the sides. He has been working on it for years and it still is not ready. But he needs it now because without it his crops will die and his family will have nothing to eat and live on.

The whole area is in trouble. Partly this is because people have cut down the trees. They cut down the trees to make room to grow the food they need to survive, and to make charcoal to cook the food. As any basic knowledge of precipitation tells you, where there are trees there is rain. Cut down the trees and the land becomes desert. This is local climate change.

But it is also in trouble because of global climate change. Our CO2-producing actions have changed the weather patterns of our world, and people like Daniel are suffering as a result. Having talked about climate change for years, I have seen what it looks like to a family who are being directly impacted by it, and it made me see again how climate change is the single biggest issue facing us today.

We can all do something to help, and I would urge you to do so. Let’s plant some trees ourselves, and financially support schemes that plant trees in areas like the Great Rift Valley. Let’s make conscious changes in our lives so that we use less energy, and support projects that are helping communities move away from charcoal to using alternatives such as solar cookers.

At the end of our time together – as the sun reached a point where it was cool enough to make the two hour return climb – Daniel gave me two gifts. The first was a few seeds of a tree that he simply called ‘the timber tree’ and he gave them to me so I could plant new trees at home. The second was a small pebble. He had nothing else he could give.

The seeds I will plant in pots at home, and I look forward to seeing them grow into trees. The pebble, though, I’m not so sure about. At one level it is worthless and I could just throw it away in the garden without a second thought. But on another level it is invaluable: a reminder of a world in trouble; of people suffering and struggling because of all our actions. It is a reminder of the processes of millennia that have shaped that pebble and of how I am a part of the same community of creation. And it is a call to each of us to do as much as we can – however big or small – to create a different and better future.



In Conversation with the Communita di Sant’Egidio

November 16, 2016

I’ve just returned from a wonderful time in Rome, where I was invited to participate in an ecumenical dialogue facilitated by the Communita di Sant’Egidio: a Catholic lay community that started nearly fifty years ago in Rome and is now in 74 countries.

Fourteen of us spent twelve hours in conversation; a mixture of Catholic bishops, university professors, leaders from the World Evangelical Alliance, World Vision and Samaritans Purse. And me.

Our aim was to look together at issues around the nature of church, the role of prayer and the place of the Gospel amongst those at the peripheries of our societies. I can’t hope to do justice to such a rich day, but there are three things that I am taking away with me particularly.

Firstly, the Community itself

I am returning home humbled and inspired by the little I have learnt of Sant’Egidio. As a community they are dedicated to Prayer, Peace and the Poor and my day with them gave me just a glimpse of the many ways by which they live out those emphases. We had lunch across the piazza from their main building, at the Trattoria de Gli Amici (the Restaurant of the Friends): a restaurant that they run cooperatively with people with disabilities. We heard of their soup kitchens that feed 800 people, of the individuals who they have befriended, and of their friendship with the Pope and of how they facilitated the end of the Mozambique civil war in the very room where we had our meeting.

We joined in their daily evening prayers, which they hold along the street in one of the oldest churches in Rome dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The large church was packed, with hundreds of people. The twelfth century mosaic was stunning to look at while the singing took place around me.

I have so much to learn from their way of life and their commitment.

Secondly, the place of the poor

We had a long and challenging conversation around poverty and spirituality. Echoes of Liberation Theology were reverberating around the walls loudly as we discussed God’s preferential option for the poor. I was constantly reminded that this was not a theoretical discussion: many people around the table spend much of their lives in the company of those who were poor and it is their lived experience that they see God’s face in the faces of the poor more than they see him anywhere else.

I was particularly challenged by the question: if we are not with people who are poor, does that mean we won’t see Jesus so clearly?

I was also struck by a reflection on the story of the rich man and Lazarus and how Jesus named the poor man Lazarus but did not name the rich man, in contrast to our societies which name rich people, but keep poor people anonymous. We must never let ‘the poor’, ‘refugees’ etc become social categories: they are people with names.

Thirdly, the strength of prayer

We had a beautiful discussion around prayer, its place in the work of poverty relief, and our own personal experiences. Here are some of the things that people said:

  • ‘Prayer is getting out from oneself in order to meet the Father who is waiting for his child to return’
  • ‘In prayer we say no to the ego and yes to “we”. No one prays alone: we’re in community with angels and saints, both on earth and in heaven’
  • ‘Prayer is a barrier to evil and is one of the engines of history’
  • Prayer is one thing God gives us to do that keeps us sane’ (in the context of finding ourselves hopeless in the midst of the world’s problems)
  • ‘Prayer prepares us. It broadens the walls of our heart to make us more receptive to God’.

Cara mici – dear friends – I’m sorry you couldn’t be round the table with me, but I hope this gives you a flavour of a special and memorable day.

(image: the ceiling of one of our meeting rooms in the community’s base, originally a closed Carmelite convent)


Get Thee to a Nunnery: Can the Monastic Tradition Help Us Live Christianly Today?

September 4, 2016

Monasticism, the Desert Mothers and Fathers, practices of silence and meditation are all things being discovered by many of us. Perhaps that is no surprise given the challenges of living Christianly today. Can these older life wisdoms provide us with a more secure anchor?

I believe they can, but I also think they carry within them some inherent challenges that we should be aware of.

In a new article, published by the William Temple Foundation, I begin to explore the potential of the monastic tradition to provide us with an alternative path to that which is offered by society, but also highlight the potential dangers.

To read the full article click here.