Thursday, May 16, 2019

The ten commandments of the creation caring Christian

Recently a friend of mine and thoughtful ecotheologian, Byron Smith, had an article posted on Eternity News, an Australian based Christian news site. It highlighted ten ways his family tries to love the planet, all grounded in the good news that God is incarnate in Jesus.

Oftentimes the comments can be 'disappointing.' One response I found curious, if not somewhat enigmatic. One Christian identified the ten commandments as their source of ethics. Did they mean to say that Byron's list was not useful, or biblical, or were they simply looking past the need to care for creation by returning to what they saw as a solid biblical handle for individual ethics? I don't know, but it did inspire me to think a little more deeply about the ten commandments and the creation.
Firstly, it is always worth remembering that the Law was given to Israel, so we have do some work to make it applicable for the church, a) because we are not members of God's one people within a national boundary (despite what some people think about manifest destiny) and b) we live the other side of the cross. Secondly, the ten commandments were addressed to a nation, not just individuals. It is about public and private, corporate and individual. And thirdly, love sums up all. 

And now to the commandments. This is pretty rushed, but you get the picture.

You shall not steal

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

God is a saving god. We see in the plagues in Exodus the gods of Egypt powerfully defeated. In them, the Lord is shown to be redeemer, but in mastering the forces of creation, God is also seen to be creator. Genesis 1 for example makes this clear, and indeed in the Garden narrative we see a link between creation, human vocation, sin, punishment, and the need for the undoing of curses between humans, God, and creation. It's this story that moves through Genesis to the genealogy leading to Abram, which then comes down to the Exodus through his family. The calling of Israel then is not just 'to be saved' but to be the agents of blessing to the nations of the world, and working against the curses, including that of the Earth.

A word on caring for creation then. Often it is said that 'the environment' becomes a god for some Christians. Yet clearly throughout Scripture, to care for creation is to honour the God who made it, and will redeem it, and to fulfil the human vocation.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them

Christians concerned about caring for creation can be accused of making the environment and idol. Yet I have seen full time Christian ministry held up as the highest calling for Christians. An idol much? When you question the doctrine of the church or the opinions of someone's favourite scholar or preacher. An idol much? When you suggest that 'Western civilisation' has some issues with a racist and colonial past but you are being 'unAustralian.' An idol much? When you show that behind western capitalism is the idol of greed, and that this is a major driving of environmental destruction, the ruination of God's good creation, but you are making an idol of the environment? Calvin said the human heart was an idol factory, but this apparently only applies to those who worship the creator by considering the creation of high value!

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

Attaching God's name to things that are our own agendas is a misuse of the divine name (this isn't just about cursing here). C S Lewis warned about 'Christianity and' and it is a warning we must take clearly. But this isn't exclusive to ham-fisted attempts to combine environmentalism to Christianity. Digging into the bible reveals a deep vein of valuing the creation. Same can't be said for the white supremacism that has been attached to the missionary movement in days gone by, Western colonialism, capitalism, Constantinianism, etc, etc. Christians often covet being at the centre of power, are happy the Lord's Prayer is recited in parliament while the same parliament vandalises creation, works hand in hand with crooked coal barons, and locks up innocent asylum seekers indefinitely. But saying the Lord's Prayer makes it all right and 'Christian.' Everyone has an agenda for God's name. Don't think that those who care for creation are the only ones at risk.

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

The rhythm of life is grounded in a seven day pattern of creation. Human beings and domestic creatures rest from toil on the seventh day. Reliance on divine provision runs counter to the culture of endless work and acquisition, the very forces driving the destruction of the planet. Our desire to consume is killing us and everything else. This destroys the family. This destroys our mental and physical health. This destroys our planet. If you worship the creator, you don't run it all into the ground in the pursuit of what the world chases. That's idolatry.

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

The value of family is central to Jewish and Christian thinking. I wonder if we honour previous generations if we trash the planet they enjoyed? Do we honour them if we pass on blindly their traditions and ideas of the good life that are ruining creation? To honour is not simply to follow blindly. And yet when previous generations (like my parents) remember rationing during war, maybe we honour them when we learn those lessons of frugality, self-control in the face of dire challenges, and the need to avoid conflicts at all costs, conflicts climate change might make possible. 

You shall not murder.

Australia has seen years of TV ad campaigns against drink driving. Sure if you kill someone because you were irresponsible you might get off on manslaughter, but they died because of your alcohol fuelled lifestyle right? So if people are dying now and will die in droves now due to our fossil fuelled lifestyles, where's the difference? Plenty you say? But do you really understand the interconnectedness of the global economy and the planetary system? Australia's contribution is small? Not per capita. We are part of a culture of death – and need to change it and ourselves. Want to be pro-life? Be pro-climate, pro-conservation, pro-trees.

You shall not commit adultery.

Ok, I'm struggling to make this one fit. Social cohesion. Truthfulness. Faithfulness. All good and transferable. But here's one. We have been fruitful, and multiplied. Remember the animals are given the same blessing in Genesis 1. So we can stop being so fruitful – those in the west with the most highly consumptive lifestyles go first!

You shall not steal.

Dig it all up. Burn it all. Make the planet unliveable. Stealing from our children's future. Somethings are lost forever. You are stealing food, clean air, drinkable water, beauty to enjoy. Oh and in destroying it by land clearing, climate change, pollution, we are also stealing from the creator. Tell me again about having no gods before God or no idols?

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

I have lost count of the number of times Christians who don't understand the science bear false witness against climate scientists, who don't know the heart of those who care for creation but label them as heretical or brainwashed or lefties or any other slur of false witness. So many convenient lies about others because the truth of what we are all doing, particularly the privileged and powerful is too painful to face. 

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Ignoring for the moment this commandment treats women as goods, the whole edifice of advertising seeks to make us dissatisfied. Social media can drive the same thing. Covet. Want. Consume. God wants to bless you materially with money, social influence (but oh it's really for the gospel), etc. And this system is killing us and the creation (see above). 

Monday, April 8, 2019

Hope that demands action

Hope that demands action

A sermon on Romans 8:19-23 preached by Dr Mick Pope at St Andrew’s Uniting Church, Brisbane, April 7 2019.

I’d like to begin by thanking you for the invitation to speak to you this morning. But I also have to have to brag at your expense. For those who follow Rugby Union, the Melbourne Rebels were up here a couple of weeks ago and beat the Queensland Reds. There is something else Victoria beats you at, although I am less proud to speak about it.

We had our hottest summer on record, along with four other states. However, as a consolation prize it was your hottest January on record, with rainforest damaged by fire, and record breaking rains in Townsville. All of this consistent with long term warning trends, and the warmest Australian summer on record. Now I know that some in the churches are unwilling to accept that climate change is real, but I want you to suspend your disbelief if that is you and come along on a journey with me.

Recently, roughly 150,000 Australian school kids participated in the school climate strike, and I attended during my lunch break in support. I was very proud of them. The strike is an expression of their anger at politicians on both side of the spectrum, whom they believe are not delivering enough on climate change. This generation is growing up in a different climate to the one you and I have, and they have fear and anxiety about the future.

When I went home, a friend of mine who writes for Eternity News, a Christian website, asked me to jump onto their Facebook page and answer some of the comments on a piece they had published. The article spoke about two Christian schoolgirls who had attended the strike. After 45 minutes of responding, I was despondent and had a stress headache. There was so much outrage, with comments of ‘fake news,’ poorly understood science, and poor theology.

What would you say to the youth of today? Particularly those within the church? Do you respond with denial, or simply say that God is in charge and not to worry about it? How does the church become more pro-active and less ­re-active on climate change?

Our text for this morning reads

20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

Straight off the bat, Paul is making two big theological statements that say ‘God is in charge’:

1.       God has subjected creation to futility
2.       God will set it free

So doesn’t that wrap it all up? Can’t you say ‘Mick, there’s no more to say, just sit down?’ We I think that this passage begs three questions.

1.       What is the nature of this futility?
2.       How will creation be set free?
3.       Is there anything we can do?

So let’s look at each of these questions in turn.

1. What is the nature of this futility?

It is best to start at the beginning. If ever like me you have tried to read the bible from cover to cover, you would have started with Genesis. We learn about the beauty of creation and its great blessing, and human responsibility in Genesis 1-2. In Genesis 1 we learn that to be made in the image of God means to be fruitful and multiply, and subdue the earth, which means to engage in agriculture and feed ourselves. In Genesis 2 and verse 15, we learn of our vocation to care, tend, and keep the earth. We have an intimate relationship with the soil, the pun from the Hebrew being humans from the hummus. And then in Genesis 3, it all goes pear shaped, or better still apple shaped. Our relationship with the soil becomes cursed. We see the same thing at end of the book of Deuteronomy where Moses warns the people of Israel to remain faithful. Human disobedience leads to broken relationships with the soil.

So the subjection to frustration in Romans is due to the fact that God has let us run it – and what a fine job we’ve done of polluting the air and water, cutting down trees, warming the climate, and killing all the animals (60% of all living things in less than 50 years).

In Rome, Paul could also see the devastation that human misrule brought. He could see the regular silting up of the Tiber River because all of the trees had been cleared, and it needed to be dredged regularly. Although Paul and the ancients did not understand this, this swampy ground was the ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes. In 452 AD, those brave Huns were afraid to enter Rome because of the bad air, or malaria. There is evidence to show that malaria was one of the factors that was involved in the collapse of Rome. The air quality was also poor. Philosopher and Senator Seneca (4BC – 65 AD) wrote that

“No sooner had I left behind the oppressive atmosphere of the city and the reek of smoking cookers, which pour out, along with clouds of ashes, all the poisonous fumes they’ve accumulated … I noticed the change in my condition at once.”

Paul was making an observation then not in the abstract, but in the particulars of how Roman misrule produced damage to the world around him. In Romans chapter 1, he identifies the root of these problems, that we make idols out of things like wealth and power. Reformer John Calvin identified the heart as an idol factory, and Paul would agree, and link that idolatry to damage to creation.

In our day, Pope Francis notes in the encyclical Laudato Si’ that “the present ecolog­ical crisis is one small sign of the ethical, cultural and spiritual crisis of modernity.” In other words, the worship of progress, technology, consumerism and individualism, which may have once been done in ignorance, is now done in full knowledge of the consequences for our world, God’s good creation. This is recognised both within and outside of the church. Environmentalist Gus Speth says “The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed, and apathy … to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation … we scientists don’t know how to do that.” But we in the church do! We know about repentance. What is needed by the church is to join the dots between sin and repentance with issues of the environment.

2. How will creation be set free?

The answer to my second question, how will the creation be set free, is found in verses 22-23.

22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

Creation is suffering now in birth pains, but that suffering will one day give way to joy. Any woman here who has carried a child will know what this is like. I can remember watching my own wife with her distended belly, it getting hard to get comfortable at night. But the suffering is all worth it when a child is born. What Paul is saying is that creation is longing for the resurrection of the dead like a pregnant woman groans for the baby to come out. Renewed humanity at the resurrection means a renewed relationship with the Earth, and not the abandonment of it. Christianity is not just about going to heaven when you die like some Christians believe. Anglican theologian Tom Wright has said that heaven is important, but it’s not the end of the world. The future of us and the future of the creation are entangled together.

What this means is that we have a message of hope to offer the world. But what does that mean for the here and now?

3. Hope comes with responsibility

My last point then is that hope comes with responsibility. We might ask that if God has subjected the creation to frustration under our sinful misrule, and God will save it, why should we do anything? If the present state of things is God’s will, how can we contest it? Paul has addressed a similar idea in Romans 6:1 where he asks shall we go on sinning that grace may abound? He responds with an emphatic by no means!

We know that sin, idolatry, greed, and wilful ignorance of the harms we have done will lead to judgment. In Revelation it says that God will destroy those who judge the Earth. God’s judgment on sin and idolatry leads to more environmental harms, and people suffering. Why would we not repent of this?  Why knowingly do things that hurt others we don’t know, or our children who will inherit this world, the very school children who took part in the strike?

If you knew that you were going to receive a heart transplant after a lifetime of drinking, smoking, and eating badly, would you wait until after the surgery, or would you start living a healthier lifestyle now? God is the great surgeon, but we are called upon to be good patients. Or imagine learning to drive in the old ‘family bomb.’ You are promised a new car when you turn 18 and get your licence, so you are not going to wait until then to learn to drive. What Paul is saying is that when we get the new car, we will discover that it is the old one, renovated to be even better than before.

Furthermore, we have a responsibility not only to live more gently on the earth, but to speak up. Paul wrote his letter to Christians in Rome, right at the centre of the biggest empire of the day. His letter could not avoid being political. Paul proclaimed in Romans that Jesus was son of God but Roman coins read that Caesar was “Son of God, Father of His Country.” Paul claimed creation groaned in birth pains while the Roman poet Horace said of Augustus Caesar that “Your age, O Caesar, has restored plenteous crops to the land.” A Caesar had to keep the crops plenteous to keep people filled, otherwise they might rebel. So Paul is making a statement that Rome was engaging in what we would now call greenwashing, that the emperor has no clothes. So when power contradicts truth we need to speak truth to power - including on climate change.

So the gospel always opposes powers gone wrong. We have both the right and opportunity to speak out as the church to call the world to repentance on matters of sin. Many Christians take a stand on gambling, slavery, medical ethics. Why not climate change? When leaders, those in business, etc aren’t acting to take better care of God’s creation, the church has the responsibility to speak out – and dare I suggest skipping a day of school to do so is ok?

So let me then close by asking, what are you willing to do to live faithfully as a good steward of creation until Christ returns to set creation free?

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Anote's Ark

Wow, I did't realise how long it had been since I last blogged. Things have been busy, including starting a Masters degree looking at a biblical hermeneutic for the Anthropocene, and writing two books. More of that later. Last night I went to the Melbourne screening of Anote's Ark.

Anote Tong is the former president of Kiribati, a collection of coral atolls in the western Pacific. He often describes Kiribati as being the centre of the world, since the islands are located on both sides of the equator and the dateline. He has been a tireless campaigner on climate change since taking office, and afterwards, even now the new government have taken a big (and sadly poorly theologically informed) step away from his policies.

This excellent documentary shows a true statesman, who while acknowledging that even 1.5 C of warming wont save his home in the longer term, it will make a difference in the short term for his country, and in the longer term for others. This is the conclusion too of a recent IPCC report on a 1.5 C world.

The documentary also follows a young family who choose to start a new life in New Zealand under a migration program (Australia take note). Sermery leaves home to raise funds for the rest of her family to join here in New Zealand. Watching her go through six months without her children was hard to take. We have the privilege of seeing her have a child in her new home, marking a new phase in their lives, but a phase that signals the slow end to their unique culture.

As Anote reminds us, the people of Kiribati are the canary in the coal mine. If we do not act, their present will be our future. What is all the more galling for me is that Australia continues to do little for the people of Kiribati. The Prime Minister is calling into question commitment to the Green Climate Fund which is designed to help nations like Kiribati to adapt to climate change. Funny how under colonisation we were happy to take their phosphate cheaply in the past, much like Nauru. I guess Kiribati is too far away for offshore detention? Love your neighbour as yourself.

The event was put on by the Environmental Film Festival Australia. Well worth your time and patronage.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Pie in the sky? Geoengeering not a fix for our problems

Mount Pinatubo produced enough sulphur to combat a double CO2 scenario, but also declines in global rainfall.

One of the things that has been keeping me from blogging of late has been a journal article on a theology of geoengineering.

I make no secret of not being a fan. Geoengineering is planetary scale intervention in the Earth system to combat climate change. It is plan B after we have failed to take proper action. A number of the technologies have nasty side effects. None of them will work alone. The effort would be better placed into a massive switch to greater efficiency, renewable energy and restructuring our cities (which will have to move anyway thanks for committed to levels of sea level rise.

But I also think there are theological issues which address the problems that geoengineering seeks to solve as well. We've lived for too long in the bubble of our own power. Inherited from Francis Bacon, technology and science are seen as a source of power to endlessly manipulate an inert environment. This view should be collapsing in the Anthropocene, but ecomodernism pushes geoengineering. Two theological frameworks can be constructed.

1. Based on Genesis, particularly chapter 1, creation can be envisaged as a temple, sacred to God. This means humans have a priestly role of service. This is not exclusive of use, but challenges mechanistic views alone of human mastery over inert matter. The Earth is not simply a resources or a laboratory. Add to this Aboriginal theology that sees the Creator Spirit as present in the land.

2. Based on 1 Kings 16-18, technology like geoengineering can be viewed as a form of Baalism - seeking from the cause of the problem also the solution.

To read more, see the draft on

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Of ballet and reefs

Great Barrier Reef. (Toby Hudson, Creative Commons)

I had the pleasure of speaking at Merri Creek Anglican today, following World Earth Day. The audio will be here soon. I gave one of my standard sermons on creation, following Psalm 104 - a meditation on the beauty of creation, including in its savageness. I've written a paper on this in the EcoCare journal and blogged elsewhere.

The night before, I took my family to the Shanghai Ballet perform Swan Lake at the Regent Theatre in Melbourne. A beautiful dance production with beautiful moves and costumes in a beautiful building.

And then I was reminded of the unifying theme, that of beauty. The world abounds in beauty. Humans at their best create beauty. Art, ballet, music, poetry, literature. These things are not the frilly bits at the edge of society and theologian Tom Wright points out, but stand at the middle of what society is about. Kenneth Clark understood that art was one of the cornerstones of civilisation.

There is a meme, which is false, circulating that Winston Churchill claimed that part of the point of fighting WWII was to defend ideas like art. Why cut funding to the arts during a time of war. Churchill did however say:

“The arts are essen­tial to any com­plete national life. The State owes it to itself to sus­tain and encour­age them….Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the rev­er­ence and delight which are their due.”

This is in contrast to President Trumps cut to the arts, which occurs at the same time to savage cuts to environmental care. Coincidence? I think not.

You see, I think that capitalism at its worst is all about brutalism in reducing everything to the utilitarian or that which can be consumed (which is not to say socialism is without its faults). The art, like nature, is not consumed. These things are appreciated, related to. And theologically, both and art and nature have artists that lie behind them.

My thought then is to give the best of myself over to the contemplation of love and beauty, to living lovingly and aesthetically, to preserve both.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Beauty can save the world

The following piece made it into the final ten for a writing competition for the magazine New Philosopher and is previously unpublished.

It is becoming an accepted scientific idea that we are living in a new geological age, the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene is characterised by a profound disruption of the relatively stable climate humanity has enjoyed over about 12,000 years, during the period known as the Holocene. We have come to take this stability for granted; it’s the period where civilisations have arisen, characterised by structured states reliant on agriculture to feed growing numbers, writing, art, religion, trade, and the beginnings of science. Few of us can appreciate a time when summer did not follow spring, when crops were not disrupted for more than a season or so, and food was not plentiful.

This is not to say that the Holocene has been all beer and skittles. The Little Ice Age in Europe saw the rise of witch trials in politically insecure states, played a role in the French Revolution, and was a factor in the writing of Frankenstein. A prolonged change in the state of El NiƱo helped drive the collapse of the Mayan Empire. History is littered with such examples. But the Anthropocene is different; it involves moral agency. Not only do we remake the world in our ignorance, but we also do so intentionally. We have released enough carbon dioxide to warm the planet and make the oceans more acidic, manufactured enough nitrogen based fertiliser for agriculture to produce dead zones in lakes, rivers and oceans. We’ve filled our oceans with plastic, cleared vast tracts of land and threaten many species with extinction, maybe as many as 50% by 2050.

One could make many pragmatic arguments for protecting a natural world that gives us clean air and water, food and medicines, timber and other raw materials. But these don’t seem to work. And while an impulsive survival instinct will drive us in adrenaline driven sprint to protect what we have, it is neither sustaining nor effective. Instead, I believe beauty will save us.

For some, beauty is ephemeral, subjective, and a luxury at best, if not a distraction. Philosophy has not always done us favours. How do we approach beauty? For Kant, our experience of beauty is a “disinterested delight.” Beauty is something to be catalogued, analysed, and objectified. We analyse what makes something beautiful and miss the beauty itself. We need to transcend such analyses.
What seems to me a right reaction to beauty can be found in the writings of Alfred Russell Wallace. Wallace spent many years in the Malay Archipelago, collecting species and theorising about their origins. He was the co-discoverer with Charles Darwin of the theory of evolution. His paper was read at the same time as Darwin’s at the royal society. Wallace’s reaction at discovering a new species of butterfly is worth quoting at length from The Malay Archipelago

“The beauty and brilliancy of this insect are indescribable, and none but a naturalist can understand the intense excitement I experienced when I at length captured it. On taking it out of my net and opening the glorious wings, my heart began to beat violently, the blood rushed to my head, and I felt much more like fainting than I have done when in apprehension of immediate death. I had a headache the rest of the day, so great was the excitement produced by what will appear to most people a very inadequate cause.”

Note Wallace’s reactions. The experience of beauty is indescribable, i.e. it transcends his training and experience as a naturalist. It goes beyond language, and hence represents a visceral, emotive response. And yet at the same time, his expertise is what brings a certain attention to detail, a way of framing this discovery in the context of the search for true knowledge about the world. He acknowledges that to some, his strong reaction will seem over the top. Yet this is not a man who has lost leave of his senses or himself, but has discovered them in the presence of the other. That other happens to be a species of butterfly.

I’m reminded of Keats’ poem about Newton. Keats accused Newton of unweaving a rainbow and conquering mysteries. And yet any scientist will tell you that the scientific discipline will never run out of things to probe or objects yet more beautiful to appreciate. What if we understand laws that govern how light bounces around in a rain drop, or how natural selection works, do we marvel any less? Are not the grains of sand under a microscope or dark voids shown to be filled with galaxies by telescopes, all the more beautiful for our technological wizardry?

Beauty is part of the fabric of what exists, both the things that prompt our sensory, intellectual and personal experiences as Richard Cartwright Austin noted, but also the existence of beauty perceivers themselves. Beauty exists for a reason, it is true in that it exists as a quality or experience meant for creatures other than us, and is therefore is independent of humans. Beauty is also good, in that it fulfils the purposes for which it exists. Those purpose might be to warn off predators that you are protected by toxins. It does no good to die in the process of killing your killer. Beauty might be to attract a pollinator, or a mate. It might be the display of fitness that says ‘don’t eat me’ or the fleetness of foot that escapes the jaws that are also beautiful. Beauty might be the destructive power of shifting plates in forming pleasing mountains, ice sheets scraping away to produce deep lakes, forms of beauty quiet independent of an eye to see.

Beauty’s appreciation is found in the eye of female birds of paradise choosing a mate, or bower birds admiring their own constructions. It is hard to imagine that the complex mind of a cuttlefish does not in some deep sense appreciate the beautiful patterns a mate produces. And what creature does not enjoy the taste of their favourite food? Is it survival instinct alone or aesthetic appreciation also? Do humans alone make art? Do we alone appreciate the beauty around us? Surely our aesthetic senses are finely honed, but let us not miss the forest of beauty for the tree of objective analysis.

And neither let us become so reductionist that evolution explains away beauty. Am I back tracking on my disavowal of Keats’ charge? Not as such. Take for example evolutionary biologist E. O. Wilson’s idea of biophilia, the contention that we find beautiful in nature that which reminds us of life in the Pleistocene on the African Savanna. Our tendency to like habitats that resemble this environment have been mirrored in observations made by Europeans new to North America and Australia, who appreciated those landscapes that made them think of orchards or an English gentleman’s garden. The flipside of this preference was the attitude toward Australian rainforests, or native fauna, and the desire to import British wildlife. We can become stuck in our aesthetics, either by biology alone or also by culture. Surely then we need to transcend either thinking we are, or being bound by our genes in what we find beautiful.

The flip side of beauty is ugliness. English theologian John Wesley preached against ugly predators because he didn’t understand them. Predation might be hard to stomach, yet the Platonic triad reminds us that what is beautiful is also true and good. In the Anthropocene, what is not good and therefore not beautiful is what we have done to planet Earth. Australian politician Tony Abbott find winds farms ugly, but polluting, greenhouse producing coal fired power stations are not beautiful, what they do is not good for any creature, and to deny this is not being truthful.

The future must be one of pursuing beauty. Humans must live and eat, we seek a good life marked by truth and beauty in our relationships. Shouldn’t our technology be more beautiful, not just more efficient? Alain de Botton says that our buildings should do justice to the land that they occupy and the creatures that they have displaced. Perhaps even more now, our civilisation can become more beautiful by displacing less, more being in harmony with its surroundings, like architect Elora Hardy’s magical houses of bamboo.

The last word must be given to love. Austin claims that ‘the experience of beauty creates and sustains relationships.’ And what are relationships founded on, if not love? Can we come to love the world, form relationships with landscape and creature and appreciate their beauty in a manner analogous to the way in which we appreciate the beauty of a lover or spouse? Surely we must, for while having an environment that allows us to survive is important, humans long for more than mere survival. In learning to love the beauty of the world around us, we will do more than survive, we will thrive.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Creation care in the country - my trip to Wagga Wagga

From time to time I get speaking invitations, which I relish. Preaching about climate change and other aspects of the Anthropocene is a passion of mine, albeit a mixed passion given the dire nature of where we find ourselves.

After a friend of a friend visited our church and heard me preach, I was invited to Wagga Wagga, a country town in New South Wales of about 30,000 people, to speak at a morning and evening service at Wagga Wagga Baptist (audio here, video here).

In the afternoon, I ran a workshop where we discussed a theology of mission in the Anthropocene (after some tech hassles) and practical outcomes. I also had the opportunity to speak to years 9-11 at the Christian school.

As the photo shows, I spent some time on a sheep farm as well, hosted by the head of their new Creation Care group.

One thing that impressed me about the church was the number of keen and capable people with a solid theology of creation care and practical skills in farming, geography, etc. They already have solar panels, and give away their savings in electricity bills to people who suffer the impacts of climate change overseas. Plans include a garden, involvement in Clean up Australia Day, and a number of other activities. They are taking to heart the suggestion that creation care ministries should be Public, Practical and Proclaiming the gospel.

I look forward to keep track of where they are at in years to come.