Saturday, February 28, 2009

Prophets of credit crunch and climate crisis

For the past few weeks in the notices we've been advertising a conference in Oxford, held today, on Food and Faith: Making the Connections. I know Ali planned to be there and hoped to bring back inspiration for church services. For last night we had invited some friends round to dinner and they asked to bring along an additional guest, Elizabeth Perry, who was staying over - it turned out that one of our friends, Maranda, and Elizabeth were both leading workshops at today's conference.

Inevitably we got to discussing global matters - Elizabeth asked how prepared we felt churches are for 5th December, to which most of replied 'what's happening then?'. The answer is a demonstration on climate change organised by the stop climate chaos coalition in the run up to the Copenhagen summit. Since most of us were unaware of this I commented on the similar sense I had felt that Operation Noah's 'ark campaign' doesn't seem to be getting much coverage.

Someone commented that nonetheless ON's Ann Pettifor and Mark Dowd are particularly good campaigners. Moreover, while commentators on the radio may be exclaiming that no one had predicted a credit crisis as bad as this, actually Ann Pettifor did exactly that in the clearly titled The Coming First World Debt Crisis in 2006 (having searched a bit on the internet since I find that she first predicted it in The Real World Economic Outlook: The Legacy of Globalization - Debt and Deflation, back in 2003 - also she has an interesting blog on the subject). I find myself thinking of other prophets ignored in our heritage.

[Coincidentally four days later I have been bombarded with e-mails about Operation Noah's four minte U-tube video - do take a look.]

More interesting information emerging in the evening is that Elizabeth runs a wonderfully useful looking online resource for Sunday teaching - Development matters: linked lectionary - which has ways of linking in the lectionary readings to development issues for every week including up to date facts and figures on the issues at stake. I've got files full of development literature I'm never sure about using because I don't know how accurate it is any more, so when we finally get round to linking Exclaimers lessons to the lectionary I'm sure I'll be using this for them too.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Fairtrade Fortnight

This morning we found an excuse for indulging in chocolate, dates, nuts and biscuits, despite it being Ash Wednesday. Because there would be more people than usual around for the cafe, it seemed the perfect day to promote fair trade in fairtrade fortnight. The Divine milk and white chocolate were popular, as were the dates (purchased from the World Shop at RISC on London Street), but there were reservations about the Traidcraft ginger biscuits which some people found too fiery. Traidcraft's chocolate chip shortbread, however, was the most popular of all (especially with the smallest attendees). The cafe regulars, Oasis and extras for the morning Ash Wednesday service all joined in.

Sacred Space - Bread

Ten days ago Ali organised a bread themed Sacred Space - this is an evening Fresh Expressions service that happens once a month. It was very popular, including many children and young people. Ali writes:

Sacred Space Feb 2009
Jesus described himself as the Bread of Life (John 6:35) we wanted to explore this metaphor.
We began by hearing about the life of Brother Lawrence and how he learnt to be aware of God all through the day as he did the most menial tasks in the monastery kitchen, so we were invited to meet God as we made white bread rolls. Much flour and kneading later the rolls were left to prove and we moved into the church to visit various prayer stations to help us think and pray about bread:

A map of the world was accompanied by bread from around the world, rye bread, pittas, nans, chapattis etc so we could think of areas of the world where many people do not have enough to eat and could pray for them. We thought about issues of food justice and why some people are hungry and some governments unable to provide their people with basic food stuffs. About big corporations that keep seed prices high and use genetically modified seeds ad fertilisers that many subsistence farmers cannot afford.

At another station we watched yeast working, frothing up up in sugar water and thought of waiting time. We used Psalm 13 and remembered our own apparently unanswered prayers and God's promise that those who hunger and thirst after righteousness will be satisfied

At another we examined the labels from some bought bread and looked to see what is added. Our own bread had required only flour, yeast, water, milk and a little sugar and salt. Bought bread had a load of other stuff but we also discovered that there are things added to bread commercially which do not have to be declared on the label because the substances themselves do their work on the flour and other molecules and are then destroyed in the process of cooking....chemical oxidants and chemical improvers, lots of enzymes from genetically modified organisms.

Finally we all came together for a feast, the commonest image Jesus uses of heaven, we ate our delicious rolls with butter and fairtrade jam and honey and remembered some of the many stories about bread in the Bible.

A prayer from Christian Aid
Loving God, take our hands
take our lives
ordinary as wheat or cornmeal,
daily as bread-
our stumbling generosity
our simple actions,
and find them good enough
to help prepare the feast
for all your people

I would happily give all the information to anyone who wanted to try and copy it in their own church.
The main link I used was and Andrew Whitley's lecture, all associated with the real bread campaign the San Francisco Bread review site has stuff about the additives in bread.
Plus a lot of poems and information in Joy Mead's book The One Loaf ISBN 1-901557-38-3 published by Wild Goose Publications The Iona Community

Sunday, February 1, 2009

17 Jan - Green Faith Day at Tilehurst Methodist Church

On 17 January Tilehurst Methodist Church organised a day to help encourage members of other churches to become more involved in environmental responsibility. I rashly decided to cycle, having forgotten that Tilehurst is on a hill, so I missed the opening prayers but made it just in time for the very interesting panel of speakers who opened the day.

The panel was chaired by Mark Dowd of Operation Noah (whose film God is Green will be on channel 4 at 8pm Monday night or can be viewed on their website).
The panel members were Dr Paula Clifford, Head of Theology at Christian Aid
Rev Prof Ian James of Reading University's Dept of Meteorology and diocesan adviser on the environment
Ruth Conway of Christian Ecology Link and the education group of the European Christian Environmental Network
Prof Sir John Marsh, Methodist local preacher and former Professor of Agricultural Economics
Maggie Ross, an Anglican solitary who divides her time between Alaska and Oxford

The panel opened by offering their hopes of the new President Obama - for Paula Clifford it is the abolition of the DR-CAFTA (Dominican Republic - Central American Free Trade Agreement)
Maggie Ross hopes he'll countermand Bush's last minute legislation allowing mines to poison lakes with their waste
John Marsh focussed on the importance of restoring confidence in government and referred to those who think slowing economic recovery will help reduce consumption and thereby protect the planet as 'myopic'
Ruth Conway hopes he'll promise to attend the Copenhagen talks in person

When asked what aspect of Creation most inspired them it was Ian James's response that resonated most with me - a lyrical moment of sunshine breaking through clouds onto the landscape of the Lake District which he later found encapsulated in R.S. Thomas's 'The Bright Field' (see below), whereas Maggie Ross described an Alaskan view of the aurora borealis. But for Paula it was 'the face of Christ in the poor' and for the others it was children.

There was some tension in the responses to the question of how we should understand the word 'dominion' in Genesis 1:26. Paula argued that in addressing climate change people have to be our priority because they are the most important and different from other animals as spiritual beings. The special relationship we have with our Creator, unlike even that of great apes, is how she interprets dominion. Maggie recommended we read Saving Paradise to find our answer and emphasised our need to listen to God in silence. John interpreted dominion as a responsibility to use Creation within the purposes of God, also emphasising the centrality of people to this responsibility. Ruth contested this with an emphasis on the interdependence of the whole living world in which it makes no sense to to suggest separating people from the rest of Creation. Ian suggested that lordship is a more helpful term than dominion because we can then understand that in the light of Christ's lordship: washing his disciples feet. He emphasised the entirely different social context of the writers of the Old and New Testaments compared with our own. He too argued that the perceived dichotomy between the human and natural world is false and in God's kingdom the most powerful are the least important.

When asked what are the key decisions to be taken to avert climate change from the point of view of their expertise. Ruth stressed the importance of embedding an ecological perspective into every academic discipline. Ian explained that politicians want to know more precisely the consequences of climate change in particular regions so that this has become the focus of his department's research. Paula emphasised the priority of responding to those in poverty right now. John also focussed on the global food crisis and trade problems and the need to address poor governance to restore this. Maggie in contrast argued that our society is much too oriented on action, emphasising the need for silence and reflection. She referred to the medically recognised condition of 'deprivation of nature psychosis' and the fact that even looking at a photo of the natural world has been proved to reduce stress levels. She argued that what makes us human is that which is not human, that which evolved differently from us, and that it is a huge mistake to assume that animals do not have a sense of the numinous since we do not know this - like many other assumptions it comes from a perspective of dominance even when we do not intend it. So she pleaded for more silence and more time in the natural world. In connection with this Mark Dowd recommended watching Into Great Silence.

There followed questions from the floor, including 'will we meet our 2020 target on reducing emissions?', to which Ian depressingly reported that global emissions are continuing to rise exponentially and that there is 'not the slightest evidence that global carbon emissions are reducing'. He pointed out that Britain has reduced its emissions from industry only by exporting that industry while continuing to consume just as much as before. Maggie added a harrowing picture of the consequences very visible in Alaska where the skies are orange with pollution from China, the heavy metal pollution which gravitates to the poles is threatening the survival of some sea mammals and a possible reason for the absence of male babies.

What should we be doing?
Ruth answered that politicians need to be made to take the radical actions required to back up what they're promising, but that they claim they don't yet have a mandate for such difficult decisions as carbon rationing. Apparently Ed Milliband has said that he wants a campaign like the 'Make Poverty History' to make this happen. Mark reported that in an attempt to achieve this Operation Noah would be launching their ARK campaign the following Saturday in Cardiff. (I failed to hear the news that day but have been unable to track down coverage by mainstream media on the internet disappointingly). Paula suggested that more talking is still needed - the church has yet to find its prophetic voice. Ian pointed out that in an affluent society people have a false perception of risk, not believing the threatened consequences of climate change can really happen and many people don't understand that science is largely about dealing with uncertainties, all of which makes getting the message across very difficult.

Afterwards there were a range of workshops.
I attended one designed for members of eco-congregations to discuss ideas. There was a very heartening number of people in the room. It turned out that there were two people whose churches already had the award, and two others who were in the process while the rest wanted to know more about the concept.

Over lunch I browsed the variety of stalls (especially Tilehurst Horticultural Association) tried to find out where to buy charcoal produced from the woodland of our favourite BBOWT nature reserve on the river Pang (in the picture above) and caught up with a few friends. Unfortunately I had to leave then but there were more workshops in the afternoon.

The Bright Field
I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
the treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

R. S. Thomas