Monday, July 13, 2015

Responding to Laudato Si

Last Thursday at a meeting of the Social Policy Connections, I spoke about the Papal Encyclical Laudato Si' for about 20 mins with Professor Joe Camilleri.

An online article for Ethos has just gone up which is closely based on what I said.

There are also two snippets now on YouTube.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Climate change is a justice issue

Over the last few years I've tended to focus a lot in my thinking on the creation care aspect of climate change, of an ecotheology that listens closely to the voice of the earth or non-human creation.

This Sunday just gone I spoke at Essendon Baptist Church and took a justice focus; with three main points
  1. Justice is at the heart of God - many thanks to the organisers of Surrender 2015, The Justice Conference and keynotes (and their excellent books) Ken Wytsma (Pursuing Justice) and Eugene Cho (Overrated) for helping me focus on this again
  2. Climate change is a justice issue
  3. We need to love our neighbours in a warming world
My texts were Jeremiah 9:23-24 and Matthew 6:1-2 to look at the importance of justice and the parable of the Good Samaritan.

On justice, see the excellent article (from his book) by Tim Keller. On the backstory of bandits in the parable, see this article.

The sermon is available on iTunes under sunday am - essendon baptist coomunity church. See here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Irony, consistency & protest

There's a couple of principles I think that are key when working for change. Not that I'm an experienced activist, although I've marched on a few issues. But as I consider the overwhelming number of justice issues we face today, I'm forced more and more to reflect on what it means to be an activist, what it means to work for change, etc.

The first principle is non-violence. If violence is used to combat violence, violence always wins (a rough paraphase of Tom Wright). I won't get into the ins and outs of war or policing. Evil needs to be restrained, and it may be that force is the only course of action (I don't yet put myself in the pacifist camp, but violence is always a last resort). The point is, if I believe climate change is violence done to others (eco-justice) and creation as a whole (eco-theology) then using violence to combat it seems to perpetuate systems that don't work.

The second principle is to be justice, not simply to seek it. In the case of the above picture, then yes ideally you'd want everyone to be doing things carbon neutral. That said, the supposed irony does little to invalidate the protest itself, that our reliance on fossil fuels needs to be curtailed, indeed we need who new sources of energy and raw materials. But what if the alternatives are largely lacking? Or the resources to hand used oil? Does this mean they shouldn't be used? Or used to at least so something other than stand back and point the finger? Does the originator of the meme care about the issue or is their self-righteousness more important?

Extricating ourselves from a broken system is difficult. This isn't an excuse for doing nothing, but highlights the need for change, change of everything. We will all be hypocrites, but better a hypocrite trying to change the world than someone apathetic about its issues or in denial things need to change.

So pursue justice, wherever possible in a way consistent with your aims.

Psalm 104 for an Australian setting

As part of the Friends of A Rocha Australia visit to Kyneton, I paraphrased and contextualised a section of Psalm 104 and offered some short reflections. Here it is.

Psalm 104:5-24

5 You set the world on a base so it won’t shake. 6 You cover it with the oceans like clothing; the waters were over the mountains. 7 You yell at them and they nick off, at the sound of your thunder they run away. 8 They rose up the mountains and into the valleys where you let them. 9 You put up fences so they won’t jump over and cover the earth again.

10 You make Piper’s Creek flow in the valley between the hills, 11 giving water for all the wild animals, the roos drink their fill. 12 The birds sit in the gum trees near the creek, they sing and call in the branches. 13 From up there you water the mountains, the earth is happy with what you do.
14 You make the grass grow for the sheep, and plants for us to eat too 15 and beer to make us happy and bread to fill us up. 16 God trees are well watered, the gum trees of Australia that you planted. 17 In them birds make their nests, the cockies and the maggies set up shop there. 18 The grass covered hills are the home of the Golden Sun moth, the holes in the ground are for the wombats. 19 You made the moon so we’d know the seasons, and you tell the sun when to go to bed. 

20 You make the night dark, when all the marsupials come out. 21 The young dingos yelp for their prey, seeking their tucker from God. 22 When the sun comes up, they go bed. 23 People get up and work till knock off time.

24 God you’re a clever bloke and you’ve made a lot of great stuff. The earth is full of animals you’ve made.

Psalm 104 tells us that in the plan of God, there is a place for everything and everything has its place. The early part of this Psalm is a commentary on Genesis 1, where God separates the waters above from the waters below and the sea from the dry land. Everything is set up as it should be, as God's creation temple. And it is very good.

And yet the command for humans to be fruitful and multiply has been taken too far (Genesis 1:26-28) and we are now denying the place for everything. Remember the blessing to be fruitful and multiply was given to birds and fish (verses 20-22). Setting aside the land at Kyneton for both low impact farming and conservation is a reversal of this crowding out.

Water is an essential element for life on Earth and a precious commodity in the Middle East and in Australia. The Murray River system is an example of a system in crisis, where climate change and over allocation of water rob the natural ecosystem and those downstream of water. Of the seven verses that speak of water and God watering the earth (Psalm 104:10-16), only a couple talk about human needs. We need to learn to better share this precious resource. 

Another thing that emerges from the Psalm is that it provides a balance to Genesis 1 and its blessing to humans to image God to the creation. In our crowding out of other species, we mar this image. Psalm 104 tells us that God is in charge and tends for other creatures, including the things that some people find ugly. For some Christians, predation is caused by the fall. For others, it is part of the natural order. He we see quite clearly (in the original, not my colloquial version) that God feeds the lions, those creatures David fought to defend his flock, and that food is other animals. Divine care includes everything that we like and perhaps much we don't. Creation care means protecting all of these things.

The last point to make from this section (I've not included the marine environment since the event was on land) is that contemplating creation is praise, it's doxological. And therefore so is creation care. We've often boxed worship as something done on Sunday in church, with hymn books and data projectors and music, when it can be done outside pulling weeds and building fences. Worship is much broader than we often allow (in hindsight I could have mentioned Romans 12:1-2 in this context), and so long as we remember that the creation has a creator, we won't end up falling into worshiping what we are working to care for. 

We can learn from Indigenous Christians here, as not only have the first Australians been caring for the land for millennia, they would also say they have always worshiped the creator, and not the creation. When the message of Jesus came, they received him as the fulfillment of their beliefs.

So creation care such that Friends of A Rocha Australia engage in reverses the exclusion we have done and restores some places for other creatures, recognises that we are a part of creation who needs to share with others, and is an act of praise.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Creation care at Kyneton - a Friends of A Rocha Australia trip

The author in a dry creek bed.
On May 16, a small groups of people set off from Melbourne to join some Kyneton locals to look at some 11,000 hectares of a mixture of degraded grazing land and remnant trees and native grasses. This was part of Friends of A Rocha Australia, a volunteer group of Christians trying to establish A Rocha in Australia.

Gorse bush. As prickly as it looks
I've been involved in getting this happening for the better part of a decade, so it was a relief, very exciting and very surreal to finally go out and do some work. For the ten or so of us, there wasn't as much work as we had originally though. One group stretched out some fencing, while some of us got to walk along the gorge and cut down and paint with herbicide some gorse bush. Very prickly, very sharp and a bit of an effort.

In the end, we spent a couple of hours surveying the property, and then sat down for lunch. Tick three of the A Rocha Cs - Christianty, Conservation and Community (which often happens over Cuisine!)

The afternoon consisted of a reflection on Psalm 104, with a local version of verses 5-25 (separate post to follow). Much discussion ensued about theology: orthodoxy (right theology), orthopraxis (right doing), community, traditional versus worship outside, and future developments onsite. Plans are to return October 31 for more work, reflection, etc. If interested, contact me via Friends of A Rocha Australia.

Remnants from Black Saturday bushfire


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Denial 101x

While I'm meant to be blogging through Forest Church, I've been distracted by a few things. The first is a book chapter I have to finish on eco-theodicy and eco-eschatology (more on this in another post). But I also want to recommend a MOOC (Massive open online course) through Edx, entitled Denial 101x.

This course is run through the MOOC site Edx from the University of Queensland and includes John Cook of Skeptical Science, a well run blog that counters climate science myths from denialists. It will look at the psychology of denial as well as countering common denialist arguments. Well worth a look. I've started it today.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Inside out worship with Forest Church

I've started to read the US edition of this book, contemplating how I might start a Forest Church locally. One of the things that Bruce Stanley notes in chapter 1 is how we've shut up worship inside. Nature is associated with thin places, places where we meet the transcendent. These can also be called liminal spaces.

Of course, this is a book on experiencing the divine in nature, but straight away some might wonder about special revelation and how this can happen anywhere. While I fully support the idea of the reenchantment of nature (well of creation), the first few pages risk slipping into primitivism.

Perhaps gathering is more efficient than agriculture (I can't verify this), but gathering won't support anything like our global population - so is the account an historical account of agriculture or a thinly veiled critique? Likewise, it's unhelpful to picture indigenous North Americans or Australians purely as gatherers, presumably to set this up as the ideal, embedded in nature, simply because it isn't true. Get your facts straight by trying to see beyond your ideology; helpful corrective or not.

Gathering might in general be more robust to climate shocks, but it is natural change that forced or helped humans into agriculture. We may have moved through a period of poor nutrition in that shift - but it will be all the poorer if we went back. What I'm saying is that there is a difference between societal progress and spiritual progress. If a return to our place in nature is what is needed spiritually as well as for our physical survival, it can't, won't and should be the same as making an entirely physical return, unless we all want to be entirely open to the elements and predators. There is safety behind doors that is entirely desirable. 

It might be true too that a view of God changes from a gather's milieu to a farmer's one. But that doesn't mean viewing nature purely as enemy, as much as our crops etc need protecting from it. The Israelites saw this in two ways. Firstly, the valuing of wilderness as special to God (Psalm 104). Secondly, the Sabbath rest for land (agricultural) and the allowing of wild animals to benefit from that (wildnerness).

What I'm saying is that making sacred spaces and finding them in nature are not opposed. It's just that the later is profoundly neglected in many Christian circles. Genesis 1 tells us all space is sacred. Working that out in different contexts will form part of working out what Forest Church will mean here in Melbourne.