Recently I had the pleasure of hosting an annual retreat for friends from Wiltshire. The group is wonderfully diverse, Catholic and Protestant, agnostic and philosophical and their input will be spread out over weeks. The theme of the retreat was Eco Church and the fruitful sessions will be discussed here in the blog.
The first session asked why the environmental movement might be something that the church felt it should be involved with: what are the societal and theological reasons for engaging? I have preached and written on my thoughts so it is nice to gather others ideas.
The first response was that everyone, every field of human endeavor, needs to take seriously the impending catastrophe. From businesses, governments and religions we all need to be looking at our behaviour in the world and our sustainability for the future. The church is no exception.
Secondly, that we need to speak because love drives us to. Love for the natural world, deep and abiding awe, wonder and gratitude as we contemplate the delicate fabric of life on earth.
Then what does it look like if the church doesn’t do anything? As the world moves, what will be if, yet again, the church is left behind; an irrelevant institution.
Then we looked at why the church may not feel it wants to get involved and the theology that underlies this thinking.
Classical dualism… the idea that there is a split between the spiritual and the material. That Christianity need not bother about the material, that it is more about ‘pie in the sky when you die’!
Ideas of human domination and control of the natural order that have roots in the Genesis stories. The idea that humans are distinct from the fabric of the earth leading into the secular concept that we are then to be seen as a virus, a disease that is infecting the planet, or a parasite killing its host.
A primarily androcentric Christian view – as it seems that we mainly care about people: that the bible stories, especially in Pauline conversations, are rooted in the salvation of the human individual.
That when we do think about the environment, the human impact of climate change is minimized. So on one hand, the church is people focused, and on the other – when it comes to the environment – it is not.
We went on to talk about all the things that churches are doing and about Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si: On Care for our Common Home. It is a good read and has prompted some movement. And the Pope continues to push this agenda from the very heart of the vast Catholic church.
Lots of resources can be found here, and this video was produced to promote the encyclical.
As I reflect on these images now and on the teaching that emphasizes Genesis creation mythology, and the earth given as a gift that we should cherish, that is prevalent in many of these Christian resources, I wonder if this is the correct language, image and paradigm of thought that will move us to a core change of heart. The Christendom of 2000 years, built on the Judaism of thousands of years before that, has brought to us to where we are now and continues to have the power to define our human self-image. The consumerism that pollutes the whole earth could be seen as a product of that Christian paradigm, spread throughout the world on the back of colonialism. I think that we would have to admit that caring for the planet because God has given it to us as a precious gift has not been, and will not be enough to motivate us to change our behaviour.
So I asked, do we need a new story, a new end story and a new beginning? A new view of time and a new vision of the human?
And can this be authentically Christian too, and following the Way of Jesus?
These were the questions for our time together!