Sunday, October 4, 2015

St Francis and the preaching of the birds

October 4 is the feast day of St Francis. Now of course there are a lot of church traditions who don't recognise the concept of sainthood or feast days. And yet, an increasing number of people are adopting Francis because of his attitude toward the non-human part of creation.

This image shows Francis preaching to the birds. Now while it has been demonstrated that certain birds (some corvids, African Grays, etc) are intelligent, they require no sermon or conversion. The fault of environmental damage lies at the feet of humans alone, rooted in uncontrolled and unbounded growth and desire.

Perhaps this feast day is more a reminder that we need to hear a sermon from the birds. Once, the Passenger Pigeon occupied the skies for days, now it is extinct. Once, birds were threatened from DTT thinning their eggs, at least for now the use of this substance is controlled. Rising temperatures stress birds - one heat wave in Western Australia killed half the population of an endangered parrot. Rising sea levels are causing some countries to think about building sea walls that would cut off coastal flats that matter to migrating birds. The birds are preaching to us and telling us we are out of control. They are quite literally, the canary in the coal mine.

In my favorite psalm, Psalm 104, we are told:

12 By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation;
    they sing among the branches.
The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly,
    the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
17 In them the birds build their nests;
    the stork has its home in the fir trees.

We learn here that there is a place for everything and everything has a place - though this is in a time before virsuses, bacteria and disease was understood, so this isn't everything that could be said, although lions also have a place in this Psalm, and hence the picture isn't all rosy either. 

That caveat aside, here we see the birds preaching to us. Why don't we start listening?

Friday, September 11, 2015

Dutton's disdain in a drowning world

I've recently been reading Field Notes from the Edge: Journeys Through Britain's Secret Wilderness by Paul Evans. In chapter 5 entitled Flood, he talks about eldritch places, those places that feel eerie and sinister. He visits the old town of Llanwddyn, which now sits at the bottom of Lake Vyrnwy, which provides water for Liverpool. In the 1970s, a drought uncovered many of the buildings of the old town in a phenomena that people found disturbing. Besides the buildings, Evans wonders what else drowned down there.

This eerie feeling will become a common one as IPCC projections of about 60 cm of sea level rise by end of century seem quaintly optimistic. Even this is enough to condemn some island nations, but given the proportion of people living close to sea level, the impacts will be real and far reaching. Long term, several metres, if not 10s of metres are in store if we don't act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. No, coal is not good for humanity.

The disconnect between those currently affected and the rich and powerful is summed up well in a recent slip up by Australian Minister for turning away the boats, Peter Dutton. In a conversation with colleagues, he commented that "time doesn't mean anything when you're about to have water lapping at your door."

Now given the current Australian policy of tight borders, tow backs and imprisonment in offshore detention centres, such a comment indicates how climate change refugees would be treated. It belittles a coming catastrophe and a profound disregard for human life. No, it's not simply a joke, it's a symptom of an inability to "love your neighbour as yourself." Given the number of politicians who flash Christian credentials, I'd like to see this biblical saying of Jesus embodied in climate change, energy and refugee policies ASAP. To say nothing of attitudes towards the victims of our success.

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