The pandemic and ecocide: what chance a turning point in our destruction of the natural world?

As many have commented, one unintended consequence of the lockdown has been a sharper appreciation for the sounds, smells and sights of the natural world – especially coinciding with weeks of beautiful weather.

– The rich scent of gorse on a walk.

– The music of birdsong

– The clear air giving bluer skies and crystal clear visibility – I have never seen Scotland as clear from the Irish coast.

– The night sky – have a look at Venus this evening.

Here are some more photos I took yesterday and today of the uplifting beauty of the natural world (and yes Grey Squirrels are an invasive pest but this one is particularly cute).

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Coal Tit

 

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Robin

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Male Bullfinch (with line caught in beak – later gone)

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Grey Squirrel

Ailsa Craig
Looking across to Ailsa Craig off the Ayrshire coast

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Looking across to Scotland (Galloway)

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Full moon (taken a couple of weeks ago)

And

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Peacock Butterfly

These photos to me are reminders of how, given the slightest chance, creation is bursting with life.

But they are also poignant reminders of a darker truth. That it takes a pandemic for humanity to take a break from our frantic lives and rapacious exploitation of the natural world and get a tiny glimpse of a healthier world.

Humanity is in the process of committing the crime of ecocide – the destruction of the environment created by God and all that that means for millions of species and of course humanity itself – especially the poor.

Covid 19 itself is likely a result of human arrogance and interference in the natural world, breaking barriers through trade in wild animals that faciliated the jump of the coronavirus into the human population.

What chance the pandemic is a significant turning point in changing our self-destructive ways?

Or are there too many vested interests committed to propagating the lie that our current capitalist ‘Western way of life’ can be sustained without destroying the planet? Is there too much pressure on the natural world caused by a rapidly expanding global population for a change of course to be achieved?

I pray for a turning point.

And if the response to the pandemic has shown us anything, it is that unimaginable and previously unthinkable politicial action is possible if there is will to change. It will take global co-operation at government level to make a significant difference.

The last few weeks have shown us that there is nothing inevitable about the destruction of the natural world. It is the result of human policies and human choices.

If something good comes out of the pandemic it will be that there is an increasing global consensus to make better policies and better choices regarding the world which we have the gift to inhabit.

Comments on what role you or I can have in making a difference are welcome.

 

The power of beauty

Few words in this post. You don’t need me to tell you there is something powerful about being out in the beauty of the natural world. I’m sure there are all sorts of scientific studies on its physiological and psychological benefits. I’m fortunate in this lockdown to be able to get out most days for a jog in a country park – these are some sights along the way. After a day locked to the screen teaching, or on emails or zoom calls or writing – this somehow restores the soul. I hope you have a place nearby that does the same for you.

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Judgment as both necessary and good

The latest edition of VOX is out. With the lockdown there are real challenges in distribution. Do consider taking up the offer below.

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My ‘Musings’ column was titled ‘Facebook, Judgment and Easter’ and is below. It came from reading this article in the Irish Times

‘This is what my job has taught me. People are largely awful and I’m there behind my desk doing my best to save the world.’

These are the words of an Irish ex-Facebook moderator who is taking legal action against the company for psychological trauma experienced as a result of his work.

Reading about his job makes you think alright. Every day moderators like him review a never-ending stream of images reported by users from all over the world. These range from the foolish (petty arguments) to indecent (nudity) to potential hate speech, to illegal trade in animals, all the way to child abuse and videos of groups of terrified people being executed somewhere in the Middle East (and this is only reported content remember).

Apparently Facebook provides detailed lists of rules to moderators for making judgments. These document are tens of thousands of words long and keep expanding in length and complexity. The moderator is faced with between 100 and 250 possible decisions on any given piece of content. Such is the volume there is limited time for evaluation and the moderators are expected to meet a target of 98% accuracy in their decision making. No wonder they are stressed; I don’t envy them their (unfortunately necessary) job.

There was a popular illustration used in evangelistic talks when I was younger. The speaker invited you to imagine a video of your life – all your secret thoughts and sins – being shown publicly to everyone you knew. The point was to bring home how none of us live up to our own standards let alone God’s. We would be ashamed if others really knew what we were like. The idea was to make listeners aware of their need for God’s grace and forgiveness.

I haven’t heard that illustration in a long time (and I’m not saying it’s necessarily a good one). But my impression is that Christians don’t talk too much about shame, sin and guilt these days. Maybe it’s because they seem to be outdated and repressive ideas, especially given recent Irish history. So we rightly emphasise the limitless nature of God’s love, but quietly downplay how much the Bible talks of his wrath and judgment. Today, to be ‘judgmental’ is socially unacceptable and smacks of intolerance – and who wants to be thought of as intolerant?

But the story of the Facebook moderator shows us that, when we think about it, judgment is actually both necessary and good.

Judgment as Necessary

It’s necessary because while the moderator isn’t a pastor or theologian, he looked into the ‘heart of darkness’ and concluded that ‘people are largely awful’. This echoes Paul in Ephesians saying that we are ‘by nature deserving of wrath’ (2:3). The moderator was doing his ‘best to save the world’ by trying to discern between good and evil. Out of compassion and a sense of justice he tried to put things right. But of course he couldn’t – none of us can. The depth of sin and the power of evil are too strong and the moderator, a mere man, was nearly destroyed in the process.

Judgment as Good

Judgment is good because the moderator’s experience shows the importance of naming and resisting evil.

This brings us to Easter and to another saviour and judge. The wonder of the cross is that ‘because of his great love for us’ (Eph 2:4) God freely chose to take his own judgment upon himself in Jesus Christ so that all in him share in Jesus’ resurrection victory over the power of death and sin.

While those destructive forces still stalk our world and God’s people are to battle against them, we can look forward to the goodness of God’s final judgment. We can thank God that there is no impunity for all the innumerable horrors humans perpetrate on each other and over our despoliation of God’s creation.

On that day justice will be done and this broken world will be put right for good. That’s why Christians today can say with the first believers

Maranatha. Come, O Lord!” (1 Cor 16:22).

Preaching to a screen

So I’m preaching at our local church this Sunday – except of course it will not be ‘at’ church but pre-recorded and broadcast during an online service.

Here’s the hi-tech preaching set up – note the garden rake holding notes in place via sellotape.

IMG_20200416_123537I really enjoyed having a go. After endless Zoom conference calls I wanted to try outside in the fresh air and sunshine (while it lasts). I always teach in class standing up, free to move about and engage with students. So I find sitting static behind a screen restrictive. Rather than preaching to a group of people with whom there is engagement and eye contact, a screen gives you nothing. And so I find communication becomes a bit flat – including non-verbal communication like tone of voice and emotion.

A couple of helpful resources I watched in preparing were these:

And also this one from Ian Paul’s blog. You take notice when he calls this a masterclass in online sermon communication by Bryan Wolfmueller, who is a Lutheran pastor in Austin Texas (don’t know what the health and safety issues are in preaching to camera when driving ..!)

 

 

 

 

A treat for isolation – Fleming Rutledge Podcast

If you read this blog from time to time you will know that a year ago we worked our way through the whole of Fleming Rutledge’s  The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ. And more recently, her Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus.

So as a fan, I was excited to see this and absolutely loved listening. Thanks to OnScript for posting online – click this link to listen.

Fascinating, engaging, honest, humorous, educational, Christ-centered. There may be nothing better to listen to in the lockdown than this !

Fleming Rutledge – A Fireside Chat on The Crucifixion, Advent, and Preaching

Episode: In this episode, Erin hosts Fleming Rutledge for a fireside chat before a live audience at Wycliffe Hall, University of Oxford. Listen as Fleming shares pearls of wisdom from her decades of ministry as a preacher and a writer.

Guest: Fleming Rutledge was ordained to the diaconate in the Episcopal church in 1975, and was one of the first women to be ordained to the priesthood of the Episcopal Church in January 1977. She holds an MDiv from Union Theological Seminary, and has been awarded two honorary Doctor of Divinity degrees, from Virginia Theological Seminary and Wycliffe College in the University of Toronto.  Since then she has had a lengthy career in ministry (she served in parish ministry for 19 years), and as an author, speaker, and teacher of other preachers. She has twice been a Fellow in residence at Princeton Seminary’s Center of Theological Inquiry, and she is invited regularly to preach in prominent pulpits in the United States and abroad.

Rutledge is the author of numerous books, including Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus (Eerdmans, 2018) Christ (her self-professed favourite), and The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (Eerdmans, 2015), which was the winner of Christianity Today’s book of the year award in 2017.

In his forward to her first book, The Bible and the New York Times (Eerdmans, 1998), William Willimon remarks that Fleming Rutledge, “does not want just to speak to our world; she wants to change it. She wants to reorder our time, to reconfigure our year into the church’s year of grace…Is this preacher conservative? Feminist? Evangelical? Liturgical? Fleming Rutledge challenges our conventional labels. I believe the word for which we’re groping to describe her is Biblical.”

 

 

 

Easter Sunday Reflection: Christus ist auferstanden!

And here is my reflection for this Easter Sunday to finish a series written during Lent by members of our church in Maynooth. Easter greetings to one and all.

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Christus ist auferstanden!

If we were physically in church this morning, retired German teacher Ian Stanton, with a mischievous smile on his face, would likely come my way and say “Christus ist auferstanden!” (Christ is risen!). I say ‘mischievous’ because he knows I will be panicking trying to remember the few words of German that he expects me to know one day a year. For the record they are “Er ist wahrhaftig auferstanden!” (He is risen indeed!).

These are days of deep uncertainty and loss. Walking around Maynooth it’s heart-breaking to read sign after sign of businesses closed. Behind those notices are stories of lost jobs, debt and fear for the future. One talks honestly about the owner’s ‘trepidation’ over the ‘big and scary’ decision to shut. I find myself praying for her and make a promise that, hopefully, when that café reopens, I’ll go and give her some business.

Walking along the canal parallel to the railway, empty trains go past. I wonder how long this is going to go on, aware there is no easy fix and multiple lockdowns could come and go for over a year or more. I think of health-care workers in MCC like Andy and Susanne on the front-line. I think of friends who have suddenly no work and no income. I wonder how many in MCC are in a similar situation. I think of other friends at high risk and pray they can stay free of infection. I think of my dad in his 90s and living at home alone and find myself strangely grateful that my mother died over a year ago and is not now stuck in a nursing home, confused, with no-one able to visit her. And if I’m honest, I also wonder about my own job.

And yet, as I enjoy the Spring air and blue sky, I know I’m deeply privileged. I have health, family, a home to live in, access to technology and food to eat. I wonder if this pandemic has caused such angst because it has hit the rich West. It has shown us to be far less safe and in control than we thought. It has made us face the possibility of sudden death. Yet millions of people in the world are only all too familiar with disease, famine and war. In Sub-Saharan Africa alone there are over 400,000 deaths annually of malaria and over 2 million new infections.

And so I think of countless Christians in the past and today who have never known the safety nets of stable employment, fair pay, a home, access to health care, physical security, food and clean water or the expectation of a long life.

And I start to wonder if this pandemic, awful as it is, is bringing more sharply into focus just how relevant and important it is that Christus ist auferstanden.

For if Christ is raised, then we can trust that our futures are in the hands of the risen Lord.

If Christ is raised, then, those in Christ through faith already have resurrection life.

If Christ is raised, then God has already won the victory over death and evil powers and that therefore Christians can rest assured that

“… neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39).

And if Christ is raised, we can have a sure and certain hope that, regardless of when we die, we will share one day in Christ’s resurrection to a new life within a renewed world – one that will be gloriously free of viruses, disease and death itself.

Lenten Reflection – Alison King

This week leading up to Easter I am posting with permission a series of Lenten Reflections written by members of our church in Maynooth.

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1 Corinithians 13:12 and Unmet Expectations

12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

I love this verse. It’s an often go to verse of mine. Why? Because it reminds me that because I don’t have God’s “whole picture” perspective, there are always going to be things this side of heaven I simply won’t understand. However, honestly, within my not understanding I can all too easily get caught in an endless cycle of over thinking, especially when expectations are not met.

I wonder this Lent what might be some of your unmet expectations? Perhaps you expected to be married by now, or have a better job, even any job, or you didn’t expect to be walking in and through so many hard spaces, or perhaps like me you’ve been given a medical diagnosis which you didn’t expect? And within those unmet expectation places I am certain that people, including family and friends, haven’t always behaved as you expected them to. You thought others would understand better, be more supportive, spend more time listening to your side of the story, and so you end up feeling let down.

And what has all this got to do with Lent you might ask? Well it’s simply this: as I think of Jesus being tempted, I’ve come to believe, that these unmet expectations can be a destructive tool of Satan as he tempts me with his insidious whispers: “If they really cared, or if you “did” enough, or if only you had more faith?”

What then do we do with these feelings? Firstly, recognise them for what they are, just that, feelings, which our sometimes muddied thinking minds, often don’t allow space, or indeed grace, for the whole picture to be considered. Then I need to bring my hurts firstly and fore-mostly to God, and to then try to leave them there. The Psalms are full of laments. However, as you read them you will find that most often they are written from the perspective of being spoken to God rather than other people. Philip in a sermon to his class recently wrote of how when the cloud descends over us, when we can’t see God in our situation, (when expectations are un-met) that is the very time we most need to lean into Him to ask Him to transform us. I both like and am challenged by the idea of allowing God to mould me in ways I may not understand. I also need to remember, that God as El-Roi sees and knows the whole, including the finish of our stories! And therein surely lies our very hope during this waiting for Easter Sunday season.

Having read this now I invite you to perhaps firstly to pause and be real with God about some of your unmet expectations. Then I’d ask you to see Him coming alongside you and hear Him say to you, “child of my heart all that is not known or understood by you, is seen and fully known by me and I can assure you that I’m going nowhere, until, together we cross the finish line.”

Amen. 

 

 

 

Tenebrae Service Maynooth Community Church

Tenebrae is Latin for ‘darkness’. Each year our church holds a Tenebrae service. It is simple in form – a mixture of Bible readings, songs, and poetry. There is no sermon. After each reading a candle is extingushed and the service ends in total darkness. People leave in silence. It is a service of lament and reflection on the death of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This year’s service was ‘held’ on You Tube. Thanks to the readers, singers and tech-person who worked out the candles. It lasts about 40 minutes and I found it profoundly moving.

Lenten Reflection – Sinead Hussey

This week leading up to Easter I am posting with permission a series of Lenten Reflections written by members of our church in Maynooth. This one by Sinead Hussey is well suited to this Good Friday – ‘Hope in the Darkness’.

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Hope in the Darkness

The terrifying term “pandemic” has been headline news now for weeks.  You cannot turn on the TV, radio, or social media without hearing the statistics about the Coronavirus.

We are living in a world where everyone is facing some level of increased anxiety, stress and fear. Some of us fear catching the virus or losing a loved one, while others fear losing their jobs and what this virus will do to the economy. Fear is a natural reaction to danger, uncertainty and death. Fear, however, can be crippling and can drag us down into despair and hopelessness. Fear can distract us from our relationship with God and the truth that He is in control and “Lord of Heaven and earth” (Matt 11:25).

So what should we do with our fear?

During this lockdown I have been making a list of what the Bible says about who God is.  Writing the list has helped me focus more on who He is and has helped me with the stress this virus has inflicted. I find reading Scripture helps alleviate my stress. It comforts me to know that God is in control, that He is Sovereign and that He has a plan, whether I know his plan or not. By turning my attention to God my worries ease a little.

To remember that God is gracious and compassionate (Ps 145:8-9), merciful (Lk 6:36),  trustworthy, faithful (2 Tim 2:13), good (lk 18;19), kind, (Eph 2:7), wise (Job 9:4), unchanging (Deut 7:9), just (Dan 9:14), holy (Ps 77:13), loving and forgiving (Ps 86:5) helps refocus my thoughts on Him and I feel reassured that we are in this together.  Knowing that He is our refuge and our hope (Ps 46:1), and that He has promised that he will never leave us or forsake us (Deut 31:6) comforts me during these unprecedented times.

Turning my attention to God lifts the stress and anxiety that I feel during this pandemic.

Remembering the truths of who He is, and what he has done, brings me a sense of peace and calm. This peace alongside our future hope moves me/us to respond to this crisis.

So, how do we respond to anxiety, stress and fear during this crisis?

By redirecting our minds to God we can become the hands and feet of Jesus Christ. By focusing on who He is we can be released from fear. We need to remind ourselves that He has a plan and He will protect us.

We respond by offering prayer to others, by keeping in touch with those who are alone, by calling on our elderly neighbour, by doing some shopping for someone who needs it, and by going to the post office for those who are cocooned.

Prayer is an amazing tool we have as Christians. I recently prayed with an elderly woman who has parkinsons. When I opened my eyes after the prayer, she was still, her jerking movement had stopped momentarily. She looked up at me, smiled and thanked me for bringing her so much comfort and peace. This is our privilege as Christians.

Technology is a wonderful tool also and we can use it to stay connected with the more vulnerable.

We can overcome fear and respond to this crises with courage and compassion in knowing we are not alone and that we are part of God’s plan. Hear God say to you today, “Do Not Fear”. Germany Kent says

“Let your life reflect the faith you have in God. Fear nothing and pray about everything. Be strong, trust God’s word, and trust the process.”

Let us join in prayer together and ask God to be merciful and stop the spread of this virus. We ask God to look after the elderly in our nursing homes and to give our healthcare staff the strength and energy to keep doing their job.  We pray that we do not panic. And we pray that  the peace that passes all understanding guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Amen

Lenten Reflections – Tony Keane

This week leading up to Easter I am posting with permission a series of Lenten Reflections written by members of our church in Maynooth. Some are written pre-COVID-19.

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Diadem of Thorns

The story of Job is one of the most frustrating and dissatisfying books, for many, in the Bible. It revolves around the age old question of human suffering, among other themes.

It opens in wondrous Jewish story telling style, with events taking place outside of the main protagonist’s realm of existence. In the heavenlies no less, with the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (Eph 6:12) coming to mind, about powers and principalities in heavenly places.

Throughout the story, as it unfolds, Job protests his integrity and uprightness before his judgemental friends, while seeking a fair hearing from his Creator. Job’s pain, grief, loss and sorrow are palpable, being compounded by his so-called ‘Comforters’ attitude to his plight, even his wife doesn’t seem to help (Job 2:9)!

When Job does finally get his audience with his Maker, the whole conversation and outcome leaves me with a rather metallic taste in my mouth, of God, integrity and justice. Gloucester’s refrain, from Shakespeare’s King Lear, aptly echoes through my mind:

“As flies to wanton boys,

We are to the Gods.

They kill us for their sport.” (King Lear, Act 4 SC i)

Especially so, in relation to Job’s children.

But there is a quote from Job’s own lips, which calls out to me. It reminds me of the age-old adage about the Old and New Testaments, part of which states; ‘The New is in the Old concealed’ (Augustine of Hippo).

25 I know that my redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
26 And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
27 I myself will see him
with my own eyes – I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!

Job 19:25-27 (NIVUK)

‘How my heart yearns within me’. How indeed, and this spoken by a man, long before Abraham answered his son Isaac in Moriah, with the words:

‘God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.’

Genesis 22:8 (NIVUK)

In my mind’s eye I am at another time, in that mountainous region of Moriah. In a place they call ‘the skull’. At that moment they are killing the unblemished Passover lambs in Jerusalem. But before me, His arms outstretched and nailed to a rugged beam, is a human ‘lamb’. Yeshua, the incarnate word, God’s own Son. His royal diadem a crown of thorns. At the foot of His throne both wrath and mercy have met.

A drop of blood from His thorny crown falls upon my cheek and mingles on my lips. It tastes metallic, an iron-willed love with sorrow mixed.

John the Baptist’s voice carries on the wind and darkening sky:

‘Hineh, Seh HaElohim’ (behold, the lamb of God…)