Ok, this year has been rather dry in terms of blog posts- lets just say I’ve been busy elsewhere.
Last weekend I was given the opportunity to speak about the Environment at 3 services. One a fairly quiet early morning service, one an all-ages family celebration with a baptism, one a busy service in the church where I used to work. I based my thinking on Genesis 1- you know, the creation of the universe, some resources I’d seen on Environment Sunday (thanks Cathy for pointing out that it was Environment Sunday!), a book I’ve just read by Ruth Valerio (Just Living- very good, but quite difficult to get to grips with at times), plus my own thinking and mulling.
I’ve been doing some thinking about the environment and the Christian engagement with care for/damage to the natural world for some time. I’ve lectured on this a couple of times but not really found an opportunity to properly preach on in, until now. If I ever write a book, this is what it’ll be about, but in the meantime, here’re some of my notes from last weekend. You can also listen to or download the talk given at Newport here or at Trinity here.
As always, these notes are scrappy, badly put together and don’t really reflect what was said…
Today is environment Sunday… it’s also the first ordinary Sunday in the year, according to the church calendar. To be honest I’ve never been entirely convinced that any Sunday should be called ordinary, any more than any person is ordinary- I’ve yet to meet one.
Trinity- One of the greatest legacies of the Pentecostal churches of the 20th Century has been its impact on worship and prayer, characterised powerfully in the ministry of the Vineyard churches and the teaching of John Wimber and others. This was centred around the understanding that God’s relationship with Christians is- based in love, living and current, includes the gifts of the Spirit. This combining of these three aspects brought God’s character, our relationship to God and how that is expressed today to the forefront of the church’s thinking, and played a part in the growth of the charismatic movement across the worldwide church. Why am I mentioning this on the back of a reading from Genesis 1, on a day when the church celebrates the natural environment? Because I want to suggest that if we can use this principle of ‘gift’ to think about the environment it can change our relationship with God’s creation as much as the charismatic movement has changed the worship landscape of the church.
Newport- Gift theology- specific and general: The gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, prophecy, healing, tongues) and the gift of the Holy Spirit (comforter, counsellor, guide); the gift of the Crucifixion & Resurrection (salvation and eternal life)and the gift of the Incarnation (Christ with us- knowing and understanding our lives, model for us); the gift of our lives as creatures that live and feel, with choice, impacted by time and the gift of life within the created universe; the gift of a child and the gift of family. We understand the notion of gifts- they are a specific thing, which means so much more.
Newport- How do we respond to a gift? Wow! Thanks! Awesome! I can’t wait to try it out! A gift is an expression of the relationship between the giver and the receiver, that shows their relationship.
People, including Christians but not limited to Christians, have over the years understood our relationship with Creation as one based on either dominion or stewardship. Both of these have some truth, but I want to suggest that they’re limited- limited in their understanding of God’s relationship with Creation, and also limited in their understanding of our relationship with Creation.
Trinity- Firstly- dominion… in Genesis we read ‘fill the earth and subdue it’. Our mind takes us to images of conquest and ownership- both unhelpful, in the same way that when we read the word ‘discipline’ in the Bible we all too-often think of the stick rather than the carrot. When we think of dominion, or sovereignty, we need to have God’s lordship in mind, and also the manner in which God instructed the rulers of the people of Israel in government- the ruler has responsibility rather than privilege but all too easily we get that the wrong way around.
Trinity- Secondly- stewardship… the problem with this idea is that the relationship is a distant one- of an employee with their employer. I will also admit, that for me, the simple truth is that stewardship makes me think of the character of Denethor in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings- a man responsible for ruling a city but who will never be king… ultimately he no longer cares for the city he’s been charged with protecting… the steward has a job rather than a relationship.
So gift- God created all things, and knew them as good, simply in their creation. God’s grace- his unwarranted love, extended to his creation long before it was known by any of us. However we read the opening chapters of Genesis, whether as poem, allegory or factual account, the character of God that is revealed there is one of creativity and abundant generosity; one that does not only love the spiritual but that sees water and light as good, just as much as the living creatures and ourselves. This narrative of love is continued throughout Scripture- in the books of the Old Testament and the New. The gift of creation is how God’s character is shown in the world, and all creation sings in response. So what about us?
Response in general. If I am given something, then I respond- the specifics vary, but in general I start by saying thank you, and then I show my gratitude by my actions. In 1 John 3 it says ‘Dear children, let us not love with words… but with actions and in truth’… as my daughter recently put it- you can talk the talk, but do you walk the walk? Our response to this gift must recognise the breadth of what God has given- all human life, all non-human life, all non-living things that exist only do so because of the creator… so yes, our call to care for the vulnerable in our town, our call to speak up for justice for the oppressed and persecuted overseas (of any faith and none), our call to act to protect the forests, shores, seas, to conduct our business and family life in a manner which reflects that this (you just gestured to all of me!) is God’s gift.
What do I do with a gift? I enjoy it and cherish it. Sure, I drop it and it gets worn around the edges, but I mend it and clean it and love it all the more.
Response in the specific– at Newport… Martin on plastic free church and town, Cathy on supporting the Solomon Islands communities at risk, Andy on consumer habits- Renewable energy and fairtrade. 2 simple things that mark a step- we’ve made these decisions over the years as a church, and you may have already done so yourself- Where do the things we consume come from, and how are they produced? I want to be able to switch on a light or listen to music, but not at the expense of my children’s future or if it causes the extinction of species. I like drinking coffee, but I don’t want my preferred drink to come cheap if it means others live as slaves. There is much that we can do, and the important thing to recognise is that we can each do different things- that’s ok. For some it’s easy to reduce our car miles, for others it may be simple to reflect on the impact of our holidays… this is our individual response that reflects our individual relationship with God- it should be personal.
Essentially we have to respond to the gift in a way that is personal, because it is our expression of the relationship that we have, as Christians and humans, with the God whom we believe created and sustains all that there is. We have been given a gift, it’s our choice to cherish and enjoy it. We have been given a gift which needs nurturing and protection. We have been given a gift, which we have broken.
I’ve since then come across www.buymeonce.com which is a great website, trying to find a path towards material living that is not consumption driven.