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.

Activism · Bible · Ecology · Political · Prayer · World Affairs

Spirit-Led Movements Always Perplex

This is a part of chapter 5 of the book of Acts in the New Testament.

12 The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. 13 No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. 14 Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. 15 As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. 16 Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed. 17 Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18 They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. 20 “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people all about this new life.”

This is the account of the beginnings of the church. However, at this stage, it’s a movement within Judaism, but claiming something new that is driving a wedge between the powers that be and this new phenomenon.
(The new thing being a proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus).

I’ve written before about categories that characterise the work of the Spirit …
Inclusion … (contrasted with exclusion)
Abundance v Scarcity
Economic Justice v Coercive Power
Connectedness v Individualism
Cooperation v Competition
Solidarity v Looking After #1

In the account in Acts, the tension is between:
Voices that are determined to speak, and the forces that want to silence them
New possibilities that are emerging and present arrangements
Emancipation and Intimidation

When I was thinking about how this might play out today, there are numerous examples, but one that comes to mind is Extinction Rebellion.
How might we all play a part in the fight to put the climate emergency at the top of the political agenda ?

My thoughts are also turning to Afghanistan today. Western powers have much to regret and reflect on over past mistakes, but it’s clear that an immediate concern is the way that ‘present arragements’ in the form of fundamentalism are at play:
Silencing the voices that have begun to speak, quashing the new possibilities that have been possible (education of girls for example), and using intimidation to restrict the freedoms that are a human right.

Grace and Peace, and prayers especially for the Afghan people.