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!

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