Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Preparing for the Election

Last week's notice sheet included the following announcements:

Reading East Election 2010

Quiz the Candidates on sustainability issues with

Professor Chris Garforth of Reading University on Tuesday 13th April, 8.00 pm, at The Warehouse.

Climate Change, a sustainable Reading, who gets your vote?

In 2010 Reading East will elect its MP for the next five years. Find out what your candidates would do to combat Climate Change and help build a more sustainable Reading

Do you have a burning question: Environment, Energy

Transport, Biodiversity, Sustainable Economy?

Submit it in advance at

Question YOUR candidates
Reading East
: Monday 19 April, 7.30pm, at

Reading Hindu Temple (car parking on local roads)
Reading West: Monday 26 April, 7.30pm, at

Tilehurst Methodist Church (parking at the local Co-Op)
Reading Faith Forum are giving you the opportunity to meet and question your candidates. We need your questions before the meeting, so please send them to Jan Hearn ( 35-39 London Street Reading RG1 4PS) by April 6.
Please indicate whether you will be at the East or West meeting to ask your question.

This is especially important in Reading East which is a marginal constituency. To prepare ourselves for this the Earthing Faith website has gathered a number of resources, some of which I've copied below, but do go to the site to find more:

sk the climate question

Ask The Climate Question brings together a coalition of UK environmental and development charities and not-for-profits to put climate change firmly on the election agenda. Focusing on the marginal seats where the candidates and political parties are listening the hardest, they are calling on everyone to: Ask the Climate Question.

Further information and resources: Ask The Climate Questions main website | Tearfund (including a poster for your window: colour and black & white ) | Christian Aid | Friends of the Earth

Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI) have produced material to help churches to prepare for a General Election:

On an entirely different subject: this year's church phone directory recently appeared, now with photos on the front and back, two of which effectively highlight the church's identity as a community concerned with the environment because they're of the Wave.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Living Hope

We were blessed with gorgeous spring weather for the Living Hope conference at Great Missenden on Saturday, enabling us to enjoy the stroll between church and school for the various events of the day. The proceedings began with questions to Richard Weaver of Tearfund on the consequences of the disappointing results at Copenhagen. He encouraged us all to keep campaigning, especially in the run up to the general election and the UN climate talks this year.

There were then speeches on the theme of Living Hope from a panel: Paula Clifford (Christian Aid), Chris Sunderland (Earth Abbey) and Dave Bookless (A Rocha).

Paula Clifford argued that Living Hope begins with being thoroughly informed in the face of increasing climate change denial, living a low carbon lifestyle is not enough because we must also be prophetic. 'Climate change kills' - committing ourselves to act is to give hope to people in the global south. In the run up to the general election she reminded us 'politicians are a renewable resource'. She suggested three ways to live hope:
1. Re-establishing the importance of community. Church, as the body of Christ described by Paul, is the community par excellence but it is also an elusive ideal. Locally, nationally and internationally we need to re-establish community.
2. Recognising interdependence, which enables us to relate to those outside our community.
3. Seeking new ways of doing mission: what does mission look like in a carbon neutral world?

Chris Sunderland argued that climate change is a symptom of a wider malaise that cannot be cured with technical fixes. With half of the easily available oil having been used in his lifetime and the world population having grown from 2.5 billion to 6.7 billion in that time, we need to re-imagine human culture in a radical way, a way that is inevitably spiritual. He pointed out that the Biblical narratives come out of an agrarian community and that only 200 years ago most of our ancestors were agricultural labourers, whereas now 80% of the UK population live in towns and cities, as do 50% of the world's population. Without romanticising the harshness of rural life in past centuries, we need to recognise that something about humanity resonates with the land. Professor Edward Wilson has used the term biophilia to describe the human propensity to love the natural world. Chris pointed out that there exists a radical lifestyle movement today in which people are opting to work fewer days in order to be active in their community but that much of this is outside church community. Earth Abbey sees itself as part of this radical lifestyle movement. Working together is hugely important because it rejects the enlightenment idealisation of the individual.

Dave Bookless began by saying that the context of hope has never looked worse, in the light of the failure at Copenhagen, concern about climate change slipping down the political agenda and the huge missed opportunity of the financial crisis when the world community could have radically rethought the system. He too sees climate change as a symptom of the real crisis: a crisis of consumption and population 'we are the virus species on planet earth . . . the environment has a human problem'. He referred to Lord May's suggestion that we need to call on the fear of a divine punisher to make people act on climate change - a suggestion he recoils from. Rather Dave argued that, like St Francis, we need to undergo a triple conversion, to
1. God
2. Earth
3. Other
1. In conversion to God we recognise our fallenness in our idolatrous attitude to possessions (and remember that Jesus said more about money than anything else). The first great commission in scripture was to look after the earth and its creatures.
2. We need a Copernican revolution in understanding that the earth does not revolve around us - the earth was made for and by Christ. We need to reconnect with the earth, take up Rowan Williams' challenge to go for a walk, get wet, dig the earth.
3. As climate change causes millions of would-be migrants to our shores we need to put ourselves in their shoes and work out how to respond.

In the questions afterwards people queried the practicality of such radical vision and suggested that we needed to be 'green without being mean', to which both Dave and Chris were able to assure them that their greener lifestyle was much more fulfilling and stress-free than their previous habits.

Then Paul Chandler of Traidcraft officially opened the Big Brew with very heartening statistics on the rate at which fair trade is still growing: up 12% to £800 million in sales this year despite the ecomonic climate. He pointed out that Cadbury and Nestle in changing their flagship bars to fair trade are responding to consumer demand, we need to keep at it.

After our fairtrade tea and coffees the first workshops took place in the school.

I was leading one on how to become an Eco-congregation - thank you to everyone who turned up! As part of this I used items from our Sacred Space service back in November 07 - some of the resources can be found on that posting (click on the 'worship resources' tab if it's easier), others I'll put in at the bottom of this post. I mentioned our fairtrade communion wine but couldn't remember the source - it is Poterion.

Through the window into the next classroom I could see what looked to be a really interesting presentation from St George's Wash Common about their wonderful plans to become carbon neutral.

Lunch was an opportunity to catch up with friends in the sunshine and browse the various stalls (we had one for Reading Christian Ecology Link). Then there was another round of workshops at which I learnt a great deal about eco-schools. Back in the church the local MP emphasised the value of personal handwritten letters and face to face contact for lobbying, describing petitions as a devalued currency. The day ended with an act of worship prepared in one of the morning workshops - the creation story was humorously and imaginatively presented, as was the subsequent mess. Unfortunately technology let them down at the prayers (inevitably prompting comments on bearing that in mind on the larger scale) but it was a positive end to the event, including an invitation to decorate a tree in the chancel with a leaf (while praying) and a blossom (to indicate a commitment to act on something more).

alongside the bar of chocolate I put poems from the Divine website (which also has lots of useful info including teachers' resources), information on child slavery and cocoa farmers.

'And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these . . .' What strings are attached to the clothes we wear today?

Labels on strings pegged to clothing read:

Conventional cotton production accounts for 25% of global pesticide use. Some pesticides contribute to global warming and depletion of the ozone layer.

20,000 litres of water are required to produce one T-shirt

Uzbekistan's $1 billion government controlled cotton industry has taken so much water from the Aral Sea that onl 15% of it now remains and its 24 native species of fish are now extinct. Tens of thousands of children are taken out of school and forced to pick cotton during the harvest months. Some of these kids go temporarily blind due to the harsh pesticides used on the crop.
If any UK shopper bought cotton items from ten different shops or market stalls, chances are several would be from Uzbekistani cotton.

About 50% of all emissions of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide are derived from nylon production.

Only 10-20% of cast offs in clothes banks make it to UK charity shops. The rest are sold off in the developing world, undercutting local textile manufacturers: in 1991 there were 140 textile manufacturers in Zambia, by 2002 there were only eight.

Some of these statistics came from Leo Hickman's A Good Life, a very useful resource!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Fairtrade Fortnight

It's Fairtrade Fortnight and Fairtrade tea producer Vinay Devaiah was talking at the university last night about how fair Fairtrade really is - when the video is up on the website I'll add a link, although apparently it was the unfilmed question session afterwards that was really inspiring. He's staying over at our house for the next two nights although he has such a busy schedule I'm not sure how much I'll get to speak to him!

At Exclaimers as the fortnight opened we were using Traidcraft's resources for kids and their excellent short video about the impact of Fairtrade on people's lives - things we take for granted like education or a pension are dependent upon that Fairtrade premium. I'd brought along lots of different varieties of tea to talk about origins (the historian in me can never resist a quick lesson on such things) and for sampling. The overwhelming favourite among the children was, I'm afraid, not actually Fairtrade Foundation certified but it is from a small scale company that do do Fairtrade - vanilla rooibos. The Traidcraft campaign this year is to make the major tea sellers in this country turn truly fair trade, and the Exclaimers were enthusiastic at taking petitions around the congregation afterwards to achieve this.

I'm looking forward to celebrating Traidcraft's Big Brew myself this Saturday at the Living Hope: Green Churches, Green Schools event at Great Missenden. I'm leading a workshop there on how to become an Eco-congregation.

A channel of God's Peace: anti-nuclear campaigning and Franciscan poetry

On 14 February the Exclaimers were looking at St Francis (not with me). Together three of them wrote this poem:

Windows seven
Nothing like Heaven

X box Elite
too lazy to eat

our brains are dead
our books aren't read

games consoles
suck out our souls

use our visa
day trip to Pisa.

DSI in the sky
PSP or nintendo wii

Trainers from Nike
to ride my bike

Stop a shooting star
with a chocolate bar.

Take ur valentine
out 2 dine

Raban shades
Night club raids

Super Mario Brothers
No kisses for mothers

That evening the church was filled with campaigners from across the country and abroad for the demonstration against the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston on Monday. Some 300 of them were fed vegan meals in the church on the Monday and many slept on the floor in the church itself and in the school hall on Sunday and Monday nights. Some were from Christian CND, some were not Christians. Ali, one of our Ministers who was present at the demonstration too, reported the very special atmosphere in the church over that time and the awe many felt at sleeping in a religious building.

The demonstration itself was a peaceful occasion with some 800 people present, including our bishop, Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell. According to the Church Times, he said that the renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons system was “a matter of principle from a Christian point of view”, and there were “no circumstances you could imagine using these weapons; therefore there is no justification for owning them”. He also questioned whether the UK was in breach of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, as, although there would not be an increase in the number of weapons, their overall capacity would be much larger. “The real needs of security of a nation are not serviced by nuclear weapons, and I don’t think ever have been. People are really questioning whether they are the right solution for the 21st century. What right do we have to say to other countries they can’t have them when we are busy investing in them ourselves?”
(The picture above is from the Church Times Website)