In this week’s prayer email:
- Short Notes: Votes, Tropical Cyclone Winston, ‘Hope in a Changing Climate’
- Loving our neigbour in a globalised world
- How then shall we live?
“Abraham believed the Lord, and God reckoned it to him as righteousness.” – a text from this week’s Revised Common Lectionary texts that has been very important to many Christians! Can we follow Abraham’s faith, trusting to God to bring to pass even those good things that seem impossible?
Short Notes: Votes, Hurricane Winston, ‘Hope in a Changing Climate’
- The date of the UK referendum on EU membership has been announced. This is a vote with implications not only for the UK but for the future of the European Union, already facing a period of strain. Please pray for wisdom and discernment for those campaigning on the issue within the UK and for UK voters. Pray also for wisdom and discernment for the politicians and media of other EU countries, as they respond to the uncertainties facing their countries and the union. There’s an interesting roundup of EU press reactions here.Uganda’s elections have resulted in a fifth term for President Yoweri Museveni – but have been widely criticised, with EU Chief Observer Eduard Kukan noting that the governing party’s “domination of the political landscape distorted the fairness of the campaign.” The chief opponent in the election (who has rejected the election results) is under house arrest, and the government is alleged to have used threatsto discourage voters from choosing for the opposition. These are tense times: please pray for wisdom and discernment for all people with influence in the country, and for a movement towards stability with justice.
- Another category 5 tropical cyclone has hit the Pacific; pray for the people of Fiji, some of whose islands are receiving a direct strike from Tropical Cyclone Winston, the first category 5 storm known to have hit the islands. The main airport is in the hurricane’s path – pray that any hurricane damage does not prevent humanitarian relief from arriving quickly and being used effectively.
- On the 15th and 16th of April, a group of agencies and churches, including A Rocha UK, All We Can, CAFOD, Christian Aid, CCOW, the Church of England, Commitment for Life, Global Justice Now, Operation Noah, Progressio, and Tearfund are putting on a conference called ‘Hope in a Changing Climate‘. It will offer a chance to get updates on what happened in Paris, reflect on Christian responses, share ideas and experiences, and learn about ways in which we can act to make a difference – whether through advocacy, investments, practical action or prayer.Speakers include leading climate scientist Professor Myles Allen; theologians such as Michael Northcott, Martin Poulsom, Rosalind Selby and Ruth Valerio; climate communicator George Marshall; church leaders such as the Rt Revd William Kenney, Rachel Lampard, and Jo Herbert; specialists in advocacy and activism Paul Cook and Mark Letcher and many others.Pray for the speakers as they prepare. Pray that the event may be a blessing to Christians in the UK and elsewhere as they seek to care for creation.
Loving our neighbour in a globalised world
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
It’s easy to understand the lawyer’s question. We all have finite resources – emotional, material, of time, of space. If we are to love our neighbour as ourself, extending the definition of neighbour too far can feel overwhelming. The temptation is to circumscribe the number of people to whom we have obligations so that life feels manageable, and we can say confidently: “I have done this.”
But Jesus’ response allows neither the lawyer nor us to take that route.
Instead of getting an answer that enables him to classify others into the category of neighbour or not neighbour, the lawyer is instructed to act as a neighbour to those whom he encounters, whatever their circumstances.
That’s a challenge. And in a globalised world, it raises numerous questions. What does it mean to ‘encounter’ someone? Does it apply only to those whom we meet in our daily lives? Or also to others whom we may or may not meet face to face? Pondering this, the theologian Dewi Hughes has suggested that we ‘encounter’ anyone on whom our actions have an impact – and that with respect to such people, we are responsible for applying the principle of love in all our actions that affect them.
So, for example, the person who sold me the tea I drank on my travels yesterday is my neighbour, and I have a responsibility to treat her with loving respect and to care about whether the cafe where she works pays her adequately. But the producers of the tea and the milk I have drunk are also my neighbours. I benefit from their labour – and I have a responsibility to care that they were paid fairly for it … and that they were not compelled to work in conditions that imperilled their health or wellbeing.
But are they the only people affected by my actions? Boiling the kettle required electricity – and hence the production of energy. The paper cup in which it was served required the felling of trees and the moulding of plastic. Were these actions undertaken responsibly? Or were they contributors – albeit minuscule contributors – to the climate change and degradation of earth’s natural resources that are causing difficulties for people around the world?
We live in a world that prioritises consumption – that constantly encourages us to focus on fulfilling our own desires and touches only briefly, if at all, on their impact on others and on the earth. But the command to love your neighbour requires us to take into account our daily choices’ impacts on our global neighbours and our common home, whose finite resources are so sadly overstretched.
At times seeking to live in a way that is mindful of our impacts may feel overwhelming. And certainly it can require an investment of time or energy, especially if we’re just starting to look at a particular area of our life. But we don’t need to be discouraged – there are plenty of fellow Christians (and others) walking alongside us who can help us along the way; issues can become clearer; and we can, by God’s grace, grow in courage and confidence. … and ask for forgiveness when we don’t get it right.
And this is not a joyless thing. To the contrary, trying to live in a way that is mindful of others and of the earth we share can bring tremendous enjoyment and a restorative awareness of connection with our fellow humans, the creation and God. Pray that God will guide us – and all people – along this way of life, for the good of our neighbours and ourselves.
How then shall we live?
There are so many ways in which we can act lovingly towards our global neighbours and creation – in a short piece one can just begin to scratch the surface. But for this week, we’ve chosen three areas where meaningful action can be easily taken in our everyday lives (the way we invest in these areas is also important, and will be the subject of a future reflection) – and we reflect on how a changed mindset may be helpful. And, as these action points and suggestions may well be statements of the obvious for many readers, we end by providing some suggestions of books that explore the subject in more detail.
The Paris climate commitment to “pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C” cannot be achieved without a switch away from fossil fuel sources of energy. Christian Aid and Tearfund have teamed up in a practical initiative, which launched on Ash Wednesday, to help churches and individuals make the switch to 100% renewable forms of energy. The ‘Big Church Switch’ will use the buying power of all who register their interest to secure the best deal from the cleanest suppliers in the UK. A quote will be provided to the registered churches and individuals who then decide if they want to sign up. ‘The Big Church Video Switch’ notes: “This small action is one of the biggest things your church can do to reduce its carbon footprint… By using clean, renewable energy the Church can demonstrate its commitment to care for our neighbours and for the earth – our common home”
What we eat is potentially the most significant way we interact (albeit unwittingly) with our global neighbours and our common home. The science journal Nature reports that “The global food system, from fertilizer manufacture to food storage and packaging, is responsible for up to one-third of all human-caused greenhouse-gas emissions”. Agriculture on farms is responsible for about 13% of total global emissions, with animals releasing methane and the use of nitrogen fertilizers the most significant contributors. However, “Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted”, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) – a massive squandering of Earth’s finite resources. UNEP say, “Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes)”. What about figures for the UK? Here, UNEP report that around a third of all the food purchased each year is not eaten.
How might we act more caringly towards our global neighbours and God’s creation?
- Eating more thoughtfully. A study of the carbon footprints of the real diets of more than 50,000 people in the UK found that the benefits of altering one’s diet “could be huge”: “if someone eating more than 100 grams of meat a day simply cut down to less than 50 grams a day, their food-related emissions would fall by a third. That would save almost a tonne of CO2 each year, about as much as an economy return flight between London and New York”. Similarly a study in the USA found that “Although food was not the biggest source of emissions, it was where people could make the biggest and most cost-effective savings, by wasting less food and eating less meat.”
- The Love Food, Hate Waste website has some great ideas for cutting down food waste and recipes for leftovers.
- Increasingly choose foods that fulfills at least one of the LOAF criteria – Locally produced, Organically grown, Animal friendly and Fairly Traded – an initiative of Green Christian (formerly Christian Ecology Link).
- Look for labels: whilst the variety of labels signifying ethical sourcing can be confusing, some to look out for are the blue Marine Stewardship Council label (which signifies the seafood has been responsibly caught by a certified sustainable fishery), the Fairtrade mark, the LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) Marque (an environmental assurance system recognising sustainably farmed products) and the Carbon Trust footprint label (which indicates the producer’s commitment to measuring and reducing the resource footprints of the product).
- Try growing more of your own food.
Ruth Valerio writes, “Our demand for paper is one of the key factors behind deforestation, which, in turn, is the second highest contributor to climate change, only behind burning fossil fuels” (L is for Lifestyle, p 114).
Great Britain is the world’s sixth highest consumer of paper and paperboard (2013 statistic) and, according to the Confederation of Paper Industries, “in the UK, we produce less than half of the paper we consume. In fact, the UK imports proportionately more paper than any other country in the world”.
So what actions might we take?
- First, is to reduce our paper usage, reuse what we can and buy recycled paper.
- Look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo on paper, timber and other forest products. The logo guarantees you are not contributing to global forest destruction. There is also an FSC Recycled label, which means the product has been made from at least 85% post-consumer reclaimed materials.
- Cut down on the junk mail you receive by going to the Mail Preference Service where you can get your name taken off mailing lists.
A changed mindset
In their paper, “Overconsumption? Our use of the world’s resources”, Friends of the Earth write,
“In order to create a more sustainable and equitable world, regions with high levels of per-capita resource use, such as Europe, will need to sharply decrease their resource use in absolute terms.
More fundamental questions about economics, development and resources need to be addressed in the medium term. Most significantly, ‘How can new models of development be created in Europe and other industrialised countries that focus on well-being instead of increased production and consumption?’ This will require rethinking the role of economic growth and the links between resource use, quality of life and happiness”.
The need for “rethinking” and emphasis on quality of life is reminiscent of Romans 12:2: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is – what is good and acceptable and perfect”.
It is very easy to get caught up in our current culture, which assumes constant consumption and acquisition are both good and necessary (how else can the economy grow?) – and hard to break away. But simply being abstemious – whilst clearly necessary given the parlous state of the planet – doesn’t seem sufficient response, because it is a negative “thou shalt not” type of response that can readily lead to debilitating guilt, feelings of failure and accusations of hypocrisy when well-intentioned resolutions are broken. Perhaps, instead, we can try thinking differently about how we live and what we consume. Rather than being consumers of “things” might we increasingly become “consumers” of culture, nature and friendship – not in a utilitarian way but in terms of where we take delight, find our identity and spend our spare time? Can we take to heart the injunction of Hebrews 15:5, “Be content with what you have” – perhaps literally looking at our possessions afresh and taking joy and pleasure in the good and lovely things we already have?
A very brief list – which undoubtedly leaves out many books that our prayer email readers have found useful! Do email us with suggestions, as we’re putting together an annotated list.
- A Moral Climate: The ethics of global warming (Michael Northcott, Christian Aid/ Darton, Longman and Todd)
- And God Saw That It Was Good (Carlo Carretto, Orbis)
- Angels with Trumpets: The church in a time of global warming (Paula Clifford, Christian Aid/Darton, Longman and Todd)
- Bible and Ecology: Redisovering the community of creation (Richard Bauckham, Darton, Longman and Todd)
- Cherishing the Earth. How to care for God’s creation (Martin J Hodson and Margot R Hodson, Monarch Books)
- Deep Economy: Economics as if the world mattered (Bill McKibben, Oneworld Publications)
- How to Live a Low-Carbon Life: The Individual’s Guide to Tackling Climate Change, 2010 ed (Chris Goodall, Routledge)
- Laudato Si: On care for our common home (Pope Francis, Catholic Truth Society or available online)
Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future – See more at: http://catholicclimatemovement.global/books/#sthash.DT9PKVjX.dpuf
- L is for Lifestyle. Christian living that doesn’t cost the earth (Ruth Valerio, Inter-Varsity Press)
- Planetwise. Dare to care for God’s world (Dave Bookless, Inter-Varsity Press)
- Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a finite planet (Tim Jackson, Routledge)
Sustainability Toolkit (Quaker Peace and Social Witness)
- When Enough Is Enough: A Christian framework for sustainability (ed. Sam Berry, Apollos)