Climate Change · Songwriting

These Arrangements Are Not Working

I’ve been working on a song ….

I took some ideas to the songwriting circle I go to and sang what I thought might be a part of it

If you don’t feel the despair, you’re not listening
If you don’t feel the despair, you’re not listening
We might as well be walking in the dark
We might as well be walking in the dark

I wanted some positivity in the song, not just despair, so I tweaked those lines to repeat later

If you don’t feel the desire, you’re not living
If you don’t feel the desire, you’re not loving
We might as well be walking in the dark
We might as well be walking in the dark

I had some other lines, but hadn’t managed to put them together. One of the others at the songwriting circle offered to take some of my other words and work on them.

Interesting proposal … I said yes. Why not give it a go ?

The only reservation I was having was that the heart of the song was to be about not seeing the reality of a situation that is in crisis. Being blind to it, or seeing it, but not being willing to do anything about it.

Within hours, I had a message from Chris with some words … some from the bits I had sent him, and some he had added. I had a problem with one of the lines he had written, and to be honest, I couldn’t get past that line. I hate being negative about what other people do, and I couldn’t bring myself to be honest about that one line, so I just stalled.

We were away from home, and I couldn’t process what he had sent me until we were back home, a couple of days later. But when I finally got around to looking at what he had sent, I was able to see beyond that one awkward line and work on the whole.

Here is what we ended up with …

Is it dusk or is it dawn,
The beginning or the end?
We’ve been here so many times before!
Nothing left but tears and pain,

These arrangements are not working,
Don’t cry, you’re not to blame,
My soul is calling for the soil,
Let me dream again!
Oh Let me dream again

It seems like death just falls away,
Like drops of water, just about to land!
You’re holding on to every yesterday
But find there’s nothing in your hand!

If you can’t feel my despair, you’re not listening,
Like jewels, the tears on my cheeks are glistening!
We might as well be walking in the dark

If you can’t feel my pain, you’re not listening,
I’m like a ship that’s slowly listing!
We might as well be walking in the dark

Throwing ashes in the sky
There’s a message in the rain
It seems we’re deaf to every cry
Maybe there’s one last chance for us to change

These arrangements are not working,
Don’t try to shift the blame
The Earth is calling for the soil
O let her breathe again

These arrangements are not working,
Every breath is pain.
When the time comes round
To lay down in the soil,
We’ll dream again!

We’ll dream again!
We’ll dream again!

I’m happy that I’ve been able to keep the heart of what I intended in the song. Also very happy that the collaboration was a success from my point of view. Without the collaboration, the song would not exist !

The text exchange with co-writer Chris was very encouraging. He likes the end result, which is important to me.

The next time I go to the songwriting circle in a week’s time, I hope he’ll be there, and I’ll play it …

To hear the song – go here – These Arrangements Are Not Working

Activism · Climate Change · Ecology · faith · God · Political

Daring, Imaginative, Faithful And Challenging

Continuing thoughts on the prophet Jeremiah.

In chapter 43, Jeremiah has arrived in Egypt – against his wishes.

He had, over a long period, distanced himself from the ruling elite in Jerusalem and preached a message of God’s judgment against Israel. He had urged the leaders to stay in Jerusalem; God would have a future for them if they listened and stayed.

They had not followed God’s word as proclaimed by Jeremiah, but had insisted on going their own way – to Egypt where they believed they would be safe.

Once in Egypt, Jeremiah engages in a symbolic act that continues the message that God’s future for Israel lies not in Egypt but with Babylon.

Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah in Tahpanhes: 9 Take some large stones in your hands, and bury them in the clay pavement that is at the entrance to Pharaoh’s palace in Tahpanhes. Let the Judeans see you do it, 10 and say to them, Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I am going to send and take my servant King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon, and he will set his throne above these stones that I have buried, and he will spread his royal canopy over them.

In this act, Jeremiah not only subverts Egyptian power, but affirms the superiority and God appointed influence of Babylon in Egypt. The large stones that he buries are the foundation for Nebuchadrezar’s throne.

This symbolic act is: daring – a public act; imaginative – seeing the power of the symbol; faithful – to what God has been saying; challenging – both to Egypt and to Israel.

What symbolic acts of resistance have we seen, or might we engage in, that would subvert, for example the power of oil and gas companies, or militarism, or the gun lobby in the USA ?

And behind all of the above there is something to do with that part of our human nature that is driven by fear of the other, and an overwhelming sense of entitlement and privilege.

Climate Change · Ecology · Poetry

Receive This Cross Of Ash

Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. A few years ago, I took ashes out into the town centre and offered ‘Ashes To Go.” – taking the ashes from last year’s Palm crosses and offering the sign of the cross to anyone who was willing to receive it. Ashes are a reminder that in the end, we all turn to dust. That reminder of our mortality, can be a signpost to turn to God, the ground of all our being.

One of my readings today was from Malcolm Guites book of sonnets, that traces the church year, with a sonnet for different seasons. He has written a sonnet for Ash Wednesday.

Receive this cross of ash upon your brow
Brought from the burning of Palm Sunday’s cross;
The forests of the world are burning now
And you make late repentance for the loss.
But all the trees of God would clap their hands,
The very stones themselves would shout and sing,
If you could covenant to love these lands
And recognise in Christ their lord and king.
He sees the slow destruction of those trees,
He weeps to see the ancient places burn,
And still you make what purchases you please
And still to dust and ashes you return.
But Hope could rise from ashes even now
Beginning with this sign upon your brow.

Below is a short extract of the introduction to the sonnet that he originally wrote for it when wrote it over ten years ago. He has reposted the sonnet with a new sense of urgency here on today’s blog post.

As I set about the traditional task of burning the remnants of last Palm Sunday’s palm crosses in order to make the ash which would bless and sign our repentance on Ash Wednesday, I was suddenly struck by the way both the fire and the ash were signs not only of our personal mortality and our need for repentance and renewal but also signs of the wider destruction our sinfulness inflicts upon God’s world and on our fellow creatures, on the whole web of life into which God has woven us and for which He also cares.

Bible · Climate Change · faith · Prayer · World Affairs

A Boundary For The Sea

We’ve been watching ‘The Sinner’ in the last week. Series 4. It’s a crime drama set in Maine, USA, and stars Bill Pullman.
The main character, Percy Muldoon, is a woman in her 20’s and is very troubled by something in her past. Her uncle Colin is trying to help her recover her catholic faith and one scene shows them repeating these words together.

“I placed the sand as a boundary for the sea,
a perpetual barrier that it cannot pass …”

I didn’t recognise the words, but thought they were probably from the psalms.

Weirdly, I came across the exact same words the following day, as I came to the next section of Jeremiah in my daily prayers. (I’m reading through Jeremiah a few verses a day).

When I experience an extraordinary coincidence like this (serendipity), I try to be alert to what God might be saying. The conclusion I came to was to write a post about it in the hope that it might speak to someone.

In “Praying with the Prophets,” Eugene Peterson comments on this verse – “Oceans and lakes know and respect the boundaries set for them by God. Why will not human beings do the same ? But everywhere there are people who scorn and flout guidelines of justice and gratitude, compassion and generosity.”

The consequences of living outside the boundaries that God has given us are that our lives go out of alignment, and on a macro level, we see injustice spreading and the earth itself groaning.

Eugene Peterson’s prayer following his comment in this verse:
Dear God, I want to live in harmony with what you have created in and around me, not at odds with it. I want to increase in wisdom and stature, in favour with God and humanity. (Luke 2:52)”

Church · Climate Change · Prayer

Responsive Call To Worship Litany

We had this piece of liturgy in our service on Sunday. It forms part of the work “Liturgical Material on Climate Change” that was compiled in 2009 by The National Council of Churches in Denmark Climate Change Working Group written to be used in Creation Time. The words are especially powerful in the light of the recent COP26 summit.

Today and Tomorrow
in time and in eternity
Your kingdom come

In our world, and in our streets,
In our homes and communities,
Your kingdom come

In our lives and in our loves,
in our hope and in our travelling,
Your kingdom come

Sisters and brothers, rejoice.
We are sustained and nourished by God’s presence and love.
Thanks be to God.

As we mourn the distress and wounds of God’s creation.
God weeps with us.

As we face rising waters, hunger, and displacement,
God suffers with us.

As we struggle for justice,
God struggles with us.

As we expose and challenge climate injustice,
God empowers us.

As we strive to build alternative communities,
God works with us.

As we offer our gifts to all,
God blesses us.

Sisters and brothers, rejoice.
Sustained by God’s presence and love we worship God.

Activism · Bible · Climate Change · community · Ecology · Political · World Affairs

Ben Sira and the Psalms

For the past few days, my reading has taken me to the book of Ecclesiasticus, in the Apocrypha. This book, also known as the Wisdom of Sirach , was written by the Jewish Scribe, Ben Sira, in the period between the Old and New Testaments.

I must admit to not being familiar with the book, which is full of great advice to live a godly life.

Today’s reading in chapter 31 had these words:

Are you seated at the table of the great?
Do not be greedy at it,
and do not say, ‘How much food there is here!’

Do not reach out your hand for everything you see,
and do not crowd your neighbour at the dish.
Judge your neighbour’s feelings by your own,
and in every matter be thoughtful.

Eat what is set before you like a well-bred person,
and do not chew greedily, or you will give offence.
Be the first to stop, as befits good manners,
and do not be insatiable, or you will give offence.

If you are seated among many others,
do not help yourself before they do.
How ample a little is for a well-disciplined person!

He does not breathe heavily when in bed.
Healthy sleep depends on moderate eating;
he rises early, and feels fit.

Eating with others is, or at least should be, a great leveller. When we sit around a table, especially perhaps with strangers, there’s an opportunity to learn more about the conditions under which they live.

On the face of it, Ben Sira’s words are good advice as we sit around the meal table – not to be greedy, but think of others. Essential ways to promote healthy living in community. As I thought about these words, it seemed to me that they can also help us think about greed on a larger scale.

In the context of the current COP 26 talks, imagine that the world is one great meal table. We were watching the BBC programme ‘Panorama’ last night and it brought home the crisis that we are living through – or dying through for many.

As we observe the inequalities in the world – the poor suffering most from the effects of the climate change that the rich nations have caused, we are looking at a level of ‘greed that serves the indiscipline of the entitled.’ (Walter Brueggemann).

Another of my readings today struck me forcibly. it’s from Psalm 50. In the psalm, God is the one speaking, but as I read it today, I imagined that this was the earth speaking: (The Bible quotes below are in italics, the other words are mine). Just change the word God and replace it with ‘The Earth’

The earth has been silent, but now it speaks.

The mighty one, God the Lord, speaks and summons … our God comes and does not keep silence, (verse 1)

These things you have done and I have been silent; you thought that I was one just like yourself. But now I rebuke you, and lay the charge before you. (Verse 21)

In just this last year, we have seen unprecedented fires out of control, and floods devastating whole communities.

before him is a devouring fire, and a mighty tempest all around him. (Verse 3)

Unless the human race changes, the consequences – that are already evident – will only get worse

Mark this, then, you who forget God, or I will tear you apart, and there will be no one to deliver. (Verse 22)

Am I stretching the words of scripture ? I don’t think so.

I am praying this prayer from CAFOD, the Catholic development agency.

Loving God,
We praise your name with all you have created.

You are present in the whole universe,
and in the smallest of creatures.

We acknowledge the responsibilities you have placed upon us
as stewards of your creation.

May the Holy Spirit inspire all political leaders at COP26 as they
seek to embrace the changes needed to foster a more sustainable society.

Instil in them the courage and gentleness to implement fairer solutions
for the poorest and most vulnerable,
and commit their nations to the care of Our Common Home.

We ask this through Our Lord Jesus Christ your Son. Amen

Bible · Climate Change

They Groaned In Their Slavery

In Isaiah 65, when we read about God’s promise of a ‘new heaven and a new earth,’ God says – “Before they call, I will answer.”

But at the start of the Exodus narrative, it seems that it is the cry of the Hebrew people that comes first. They have been in Egypt for 400 years, since the time of Joseph, and their situation has gone from being privileged strangers to slaves.

Their plight is extreme, and in Exodus chapter 2 verse 23, we read “The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out …”

Straight away after those words, we read that God heard their cry for help -“and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.”

God’s response is to call Moses as God’s human agent to bring about change, that ultimately results in liberation from the life of slavery in Egypt to journey to the land of promise.

But there’s quite a way to go before any of that, notably the 10 plagues that come to Egypt. Walter Brueggemann was asked why did there need to be 10 plagues. His answer was partly to do with the dramatic telling of the story. It’s to build the tension. Will they or won’t they be able to leave Egypt ? We know that kind of tension in storytelling, where you know what’s coming, or at least what should be coming, but again and again there are false starts, because that’s often how life is.

I was reminded of that this week very powerfully as I listened to the story of John Godsall, who was taken prisoner in Kuwait during the first Iraq war, and spent four and a half months with hundreds of other captives being taken round various military and civil installations in the south of Iraq and used as a human shield. He describes most movingly how time and time again his captors told him that the day for his release had arrived, only for his captors to laugh when it clearly wasn’t going to happen. John buried his traumatic experience for 28 years, appearing to say, as other hostages also said, that they were well treated whilst in captivity. It’s only recently that he has felt able to talk openly about the truth of these dark months.

That real life story shines a light on the way the Exodus story is told, repeatedly giving hope to Moses and his people, and then snatching it away.

This is such a time. We are groaning in our slavery to the system that threatens planet earth. Maybe God has heard that cry, and has sent people like Greta Thunberg, and the activists who have come together under the Extinction Rebellion banner. But time and again we hear promises, but not enough in the way of action.

I read about a conversation that Queen Elizabeth was having at the opening of the Welsh parliament yesterday, where the Queen has been caught on microphone criticising world leaders who “talk” but “don’t do” when it comes to climate change. During a conversation at the opening of the parliament in Cardiff, she told the Duchess of Cornwall and Elin Jones, the parliament’s presiding officer: “Extraordinary isn’t it… I’ve been hearing all about COP[26]… still don’t know who is coming… no idea. We only know about people who are not coming… It’s really irritating when they talk, but they don’t do.”

Another royal, Prince William has something very similar in an interview about the ‘Earthshot Prize’ – where he is clearly speaking about the space race and space tourism when he says: “We need some of the world’s greatest brains and minds fixed on trying to repair this planet, not trying to find the next place to go and live.”

The Exodus story may be an encouragement to keep going, and holding out the hope of a sustainable future for the generations yet to come.

Grace and Peace

Activism · Climate Change · community · Ecology

A Movement On The March

I’ve been trying to set aside time to write about this for a week now. Finally had to get on and do it.
Last Tuesday we walked with a group of about 15 others the 12 or so miles from Gloucester to Tewkesbury – as part of a pilgrimage from Bristol to Glasgow, timed to arrive in Glasgow for COP26.

We joined just for a day, whereas most of the group were walking for the whole two weeks. In fact there were a handful of people who were aiming to make it all the way to Glasgow!

The passion and commitment of all those making this pilgrimage is amazing to see, and we felt humbled and privileged to be a part of it.

A couple of conversations with other pilgrims have stayed with me. One conversation early on in the day was to do with wondering how effective this type of action is ? Can a relatively small group of activists really bring about change ? I imagine that those who are doing the whole walk will ask themselves this question at some point.

We had two periods of about an hour’s silence either side of our lunch stop, and I used the time to think about that conversation. One thought that came to me was to do with the teaching of Jesus about what the New Testament calls ‘The Kingdom of Heaven.’ Jesus uses images of tiny things – like a very small seed, or a small amount of yeast – and teaches that this is how God typically works. Through small things. That’s actually just as well, because most of us can only do the small things.

But it’s more than that. It’s more than knowing that God works through the small things that we offer. It’s also about how those small things can have an effect far greater than you might imagine. Those small things can be agents of change to bring about transformations that are way, way bigger than the small thing that we did.

There’s also something about the power of doing the small thing with others. The power of community to bring about change.

The other conversation that I had, later on in the day, was with H, who shared with me her passion for the good of the earth, that has resulted in her getting involved in addressing the Climate Emergency. I mostly listened. I think we have to talk now about the Climate Emergency, rather than Climate Change. While we try in small ways to make a difference in our own lives, we are in awe of those who are making big sacrifices to get this message out there.

In the week since we joined the pilgrimage, they have travelled from Tewkesbury to Malvern, Worcester, Stourport, Coventry and into Birmingham.

In the last week, I cam across this article in the Guardian, where an analysis has been done of the number of terms a variety of terms appeared on UK Television in 2020.

For example, Dog has 286,626 mentions, 22 times more than Climate Change at 12,715, and ‘Banana Bread’ is heard more times than Wind Power and Solar Power combined. See the article here.

There’s something wrong there, isn’t there.

Grace and Peace.