Proper 21: Lazarus and Fences

Refugees trying to enter Hungary
Border Fence — Hungary

Every week, as time permits, I look at the lectionary readings for that week and try to interpret them in the context of the Age of Limits.

One of the unexpected side benefits of writing these posts has been that I am more prepared for this week’s sermon or homily, regardless of its focus. Therefore, I have decided to write each post in the context of the coming week’s lectionary, rather than that of the previous week. This means that I will be skipping Proper 20 and the gospel reading to do with the manager who squandered his master’s property. Instead, we will think about Proper 21.

Appointed Gospel

This week’s gospel (September 29th 2019, Year C) is from Luke 16:19-31.

Jesus said, “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.

The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, `Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’

But Abraham said, `Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’

He said, `Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house– for I have five brothers– that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’

Abraham replied, `They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’

He said, `No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’

He said to him, `If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”

This is a powerful passage that has many lessons for us. In the context of this blog to do with the Age of Limits let’s consider the final verses. The rich man has had plenty of warning to do with his behavior; he knows that he should share his wealth with those less fortunate than himself. But he ignores the admonitions and so suffers the consequences. So it is with us; we, as a society, have received so many warnings that we are destroying the planet, and yet the vast majority of people continue living with the assumption that nothing is going to change, or that, “They will think of something. After all, if we can invent the cell phone surely we can invent new supplies of fresh water to restore the depleted aquifers.”

We also know that our actions to do with climate change and resource depletion will have its greatest effect on those at the bottom end of the economic scale — the Lazaruses of our world. Indeed, we are seeing this already. One of the factors that is causing refugees to flee their homelands is that they can no longer grow enough food for themselves and their families because the climate is becoming more hostile. These refugee problems have already led to political upheavals in the host nations. Examples are the wall on the border between the United States and the rejection of refugees trying to enter Europe. These difficulties are just the thin end of what is going to be a very thick wedge. In my judgment, the arguments that have roiled the church to do with same sex marriage and related issues are nothing to what we are going to see as we face the upcoming refugee problems.

Up to this point many churches and individual Christians have taken the attitude that we should welcome the refugees, regardless of their political status. This attitude will be sorely tested in the coming years as the number of refugees soars. Churches throughout the world will need to develop realistic policies that help the Lazaruses of the world without overwhelming the resources and welcome of the host nations. It’s the lifeboat problem; how many drowning people can be brought on board the lifeboat before it sinks and everyone drowns.


Book Release

Bunyan pilgrim City of Destruction
Christian leaving the City of Destruction

As many of you know, I am working on a book entitled A New City of God, with the subtitle A Christian Response to Climate Change. The current draft content is available for review. It can be downloaded here.

We invite your comments. Please use our Contact Page.


The Big Three

When we look at the challenges to do with the Age of Limits we can be overwhelmed with the number of issues that we face, and the complex manner in which those issues interact with one another. There are so many moving parts it is difficult to know where to start.

My own understanding of what I now refer to as the ‘Age of Limits’ began with the topic of ‘Peak Oil’ — a phrase which is currently out of fashion for now, but will probably return. Crude oil is utterly foundational to our civilization, not just for transportation fuels, but also for the petrochemical feedstocks that it provides that are needed to manufacture so many of the products that we use, particularly those made of plastic. However, in spite of the criticality of crude oil, I suggest that the ‘Big Three’ issues are fresh water, food production and computer-controlled supply chains.

The first of these — water — is self-evident. We can envisage a society that operates with severely restricted supplies of crude oil. But, without water to drink and to irrigate our crops, we die. Yet the forecasts for fresh water supplies in many parts of the world look dire. Rainfall patterns are already changing drastically. Millions of people in India are already suffering from severe drought, the desert areas of Australia continue to expand, the aquifers in the heartland of the United States are being irreversibly depleted, and the annual rains have not come to the nation of Zimbabwe. These are not one-time events — they represent long-term trends.

Issues to do with fresh water depletion are a particular concern in the highly populated regions of Asia. Less snow is falling in the world’s high mountain ranges, which means that many glaciers are shrinking. The water from these glaciers is needed to irrigate crops that feed billions of people.

Second of the ‘Big Three’ is food production. As temperatures change, and as rainfall becomes increasingly scarce and/or erratic in many regions of the world, food production will suffer. Moreover, as the climate changes, crops that were suitable for a particular location will no longer grow there. Given enough time the farmers will adapt by growing new crops. But time is not on our side.

Third of the ‘Big Three’ is to do with the extraordinary degree to which our lives are dependent on computer-controlled supply chains. Much of what we eat or use is grown or manufactured in just a few locations in the world. If the sophisticated supply chains that deliver these goods to markets around the world were to fail, say from widespread power failures, then the effect on the world economy and on people’s lives could be devastating. Corporations around the world have focused on efficiency. In future there will need to pay more attention to resilience and adaptability.


Youth Anger

Greta Thunberg release hell
Credit: Ugo Bardi

This week many young people took to the streets to express their outrage. Their attitude is well expressed in the Washington Post article Why baby boomers’ grandchildren will hate them.

Greta Thunberg from Sweden has become the spokesperson for the outrage. Her extraordinary speech at the United Nations How dare you? You have stolen my dreams and my childhood should be required viewing for all world leaders. The most disheartening aspect of the speech was the fact that she received so much applause. What on earth are these people thinking?

Here is an explanation as to why she has been so successful.


Time Magazine

Time-Magazine-Climate-Change cover

Also this week Time magazine devoted its entire issue to climate issues. Good for them — it is well worth reading. But, and there always seems to be a but, it skips over two crucial issues:

  1. We need to reduce the earth’s population.
  2. Each person needs to consume less of the earth’s resources.

This is where the Christian church can provide much needed leadership. An honest response requires sacrifice.


Aha! Moment

In my book I suggest that most people do not gain an understanding as to what is taking place by reading the fine print of reports and analyses. Instead we have one or more “Aha!” moments when suddenly we “get it”.

I have had three of these “Aha!” moments, the third of which occurred The third of these “Aha!” moments occurred when I saw the following photograph. It is a before-and-after picture of the I-10 freeway between Houston and Beaumont, a road I have driven on many times during the course of my business career.

Flooding I-10 Beaumont Texas during hurricane Harvey

The picture on the left is of the road in normal times. The picture on the right was taken during Hurricane Harvey in the year 2017. It is estimated that the storm dropped a million gallons of rain for each resident of south Texas. This picture taught me that climate change is not just something that will happen in the future, it is happening now. Indeed, it is something that started some years ago.

This “Aha!” moment was refreshed when I read about the second of these 1000 year storms that has hit that part of Texas in just two years. And, no, this is not the new normal — it’s the start of a trend. We can expect more and more of these monster storms, and we can expect them to grow in intensity. In fact, what struck me most about the reporting to do with this year’s storm is the lack of reporting. Massive 1,000 year floods are hardly newsworthy any more.


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We’re In This Together

st james church richmond
St James Church, Richmond

The following is a guest post from Monica Lewis of St. James Episcopal Church in Richmond. It supplements our earlier post Climate Rally, Richmond Virginia.


Monica Lewis St. James Richmond VAOn Friday, September 20, young people around the world participated in the Climate Strike called for by Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old Swedish climate activist who has spoken so movingly on our need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If you are not yet familiar with her, ask around. Chances are, people you know and love have seen photos of her, with her plain, simple braids, online. They will know that this unassuming, mildly autistic girl has credibility and power.  She has inspired many European youths to spend Fridays at governmental buildings with signs and posters that ask for “System Change Not Climate Change” and “The Planet Over Profits.” When some have chastised the teens for skipping school, Greta has asked, “why study for a future which may not exist?”

September 20 was the day when many in Richmond and around the world – adults and youth – stand up for climate instead of attending school and work as usual. It kicked off a week of events coordinated to coincide with the UN Climate Summit in New York City, where Greta will be, following her just-completed zero carbon sailboat trip across the Atlantic.

Teachers, school administrators, religious leaders, and employers,– in short, everyone — honored the courage of Greta and her fellow activists, to stood with them and acknowledged the challenge before us. Sure, it is possible to look the other away and be resistant, as adults often are, of youth’s “disruptive behavior.” But, it would be better to carve a way forward in this unprecedented time of rapid, extreme change. We should recognize that an important aspect of teen maturation is learning to speak up and participate in community.  After all, we want teens to be able to carry on after they take our places. They have to start participating in the political process and learning the ropes. So, let’s listen to their concerns; they are responding to the scientists’ warnings about the Earth’s limits.  Can we assure them that we want a safe future, too, and that we are working towards it by implementing changes? Solving global warming is what is really important here – not how many unexcused absences some kids have – so let’s shine light on the innovations that will help all of us. Let’s make improvements to our energy infrastructures that save money and resources. Let’s teach our children and learn from them as well. Let’s lift each other up.

It is worth noting that Greta and her fellow activists have turned to striking because they feel that climate, as an issue, has not been addressed by society’s institutions.  An official statement on the crisis could go a long way in re-establishing trust between generations and keeping morale high.

There are so many ways adults and young people could participate in Climate Week together. How about a “teach in” to explain how pollution traps heat in the atmosphere?  Hang an art show that conveys this information in creative, visual ways. Host a guest speaker to present on technology that shows promise in reducing carbon emissions, such as solar panels, wind turbines, and EVs. Or gather a group together to write letters to our governmental officials. Put academic learning into use engaging in real-world problem solving. Provide the addresses, envelopes, and stamps so that those letters really get mailed! Or go digital with tweets, selfies, and hashtags such as #OurClimateStory, #GrassrootsClimate, and #PriceOnPollution. The time you spend together need not be a matter of everyone in complete agreement, but rather about conversation and a willingness to listen.

Are we going to choose to stand with students on Sept. 20 and join them in acknowledging the urgency of the environmental crisis? Or are we going to ask them to sit down, be quiet, and let us handle things, which, up until now, has been to “mishandle” things? Stand with our youth, choose the health of our planet, and choose the future. As Greta has said, “Act as if your house is on fire. Because it is.”

Proper 19: Weeping Jeremiah

Weeping Jeremiah
Weeping Jeremiah

Every week, as time permits, I look at the lectionary readings for that week and try to interpret them in the context of the Age of Limits. Normally, I work with the Appointed Gospel. This week’s gospel reading from Luke 15 is to do with the shepherd finding the lost sheep, and the woman finding the silver coin that she had lost. It’s a powerful and important passage, but the lectionary passage from Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28, however, is particularly relevant  to our current situation.

At that time it will be said to this people and to Jerusalem: A hot wind comes from me out of the bare heights in the desert toward my poor people, not to winnow or cleanse– a wind too strong for that. Now it is I who speak in judgment against them.

“For my people are foolish,
they do not know me;

they are stupid children,
they have no understanding.

They are skilled in doing evil,
but do not know how to do good.”

I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void;
and to the heavens, and they had no light.

I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking,
and all the hills moved to and fro.

I looked, and lo, there was no one at all,
and all the birds of the air had fled.

I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert,
and all its cities were laid in ruins
before the Lord, before his fierce anger.

For thus says the Lord: The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end.

Because of this the earth shall mourn,
and the heavens above grow black;

for I have spoken, I have purposed;
I have not relented nor will I turn back.

In my book I compare those of us who “preach” about Age of Limits issues as being modern-day prophets. This idea seems to be  presumptuous, but it may be catching on. For example, the Rev. Susan Hendershot of Interfaith Power and Light has this to say.

I’m reminded of the Hebrew prophets who chose to live in the often-painful reality of their time and place, calling to account those who would oppress the poor because of their greed. They didn’t bury their grief, but instead expressed it openly and vocally to everyone who would listen—and many who wouldn’t.

But the prophets didn’t stop there. They expressed a hopeful vision for the future, like the one in Jeremiah 29:11: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”

BUT, in order to reach this future, according to the prophets, we need to change. We need to come back into right relationship with the sacred, with one another, and with the earth.

We are at such a point now. We can no longer live as if humans are the center, but we must recover our sense of the interconnectedness of all things on the planet. It’s not only our physical existence that is at stake, but our spiritual existence as well.

Here is more from Jeremiah.

Listen! I am going to bring a disaster on this place that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle. For they have forsaken me and made this a place of foreign gods; they have burned sacrifices in it to gods that neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah ever knew.

In spite of its rather melodramatic tone, the above Bible verse does seem to fit our current situation quite well. The “disaster” that Jeremiah talks about in our context is the decline of our fossil-fuel based society. The “foreign gods” are the symbols of material progress that we often worship; the word “burned” certainly applies to the fossil fuel resources that we have gobbled up so cavalierly.

The prophets attributed the tribulations of the Hebrew people to that fact that they had abandoned the true faith and that they were worshiping false gods. They maintained that the only way of averting catastrophe was for the people to forsake those gods. We in our time may not worship false gods in quite the same way. But we do “worship” the idea of material progress. It is what we believe in, and we anticipate material rewards as a result of that belief. Just as the prophets of old said that people needed to return to the God of their heritage, so we need to recognize that material progress for most of us is coming to an end — we need to look for a future that is more spiritual, and a way of life that is more in harmony with the natural world.

In spite of their insights and warnings, the prophets of the Hebrew Bible were largely ignored. So it is in our time; the number of people willing to face up to the nature of our current predicaments is small, and the number who are taking action in their personal lives is smaller still.

Jeremiah did not want to be a prophet, nor did he believe that he had the skills to be one. But we are told that the Lord touched his lips, and told him to go out and prophesy. To do this he had to not be afraid, he had to stand up and speak and he had to go where he was sent.

Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth”.

Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long.

But if I say, “I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in.


If Only

Two articles caught my attention this week.  The common theme is, “If only we had taken action 40 years ago, we wouldn’t be in this mess now. As it is, here we are — we have to live with the consequences of our inactions.” Readers of the posts at this blog know that I am working on three theological phrases, the second of which is,

Accept and adapt

These two articles fit that way of thought.

Limits to Growth Update

Limits to Growth

The first is article is actually a slide presentation from Dennis Meadows — one of the authors of the seminal “Limits to Growth” report published in the year 1972. The slides were used for a presentation in Ulm, Germany in May 2019.

Here is what his team forecast 47 years ago.

  1. All our scenarios showed growth ending in the period 2010-2050.
  2. The most common behavior pattern was overshoot and decline, not gradual slowing within a limit.
  3. Technology advance did delay the end of growth by a few years, but not eliminate it, and it did not avoid the decline.
  4. Social and economic changes were required to attain the most attractive futures.
  5. Today’s “problems” are not actually problems; they are symptoms. The real problem is physical growth in material and energy flows pressing against the limits of a finite planet.

Let’s take a look at each of those bullet points.

  1. Our economy does continue to grow, but the main beneficiaries seem to be those who are already well-to-do. For most people this forecast seems about right.
  2. We have not observed significant overshoot or decline yet, at least with regards to physical resources such as crude oil.
  3. Technology advances do not seem to be having much of an impact. For example, German’s alternative energy program has run into serious difficulties, and the Chinese, who had been a leader in the development of alternative energy technologies, are reducing their commitments to such programs. (Their annual investment has fallen from $70 billion in 2016 to under $30 billion in 2019.)
  4. There have been no social or economic changes with respect to national or international leadership. (Which is why I say that the current situation provides an opportunity for the Christian church to fill the leadership gap.)
  5. We are indeed pressing against the limits of a finite planet.

The presentation then examines some specific topics such as population growth and government response.

Overall, I would say that Meadows and his colleagues did a good job of predicting back in the year 1972 what was going to happen two generations later. If you listen to a recent video of Meadows he comes over as being downbeat — if only we had listened to what he had to say all those years ago!


Pretending

What if we stopped pretending. New Yorker magazine.

The second article was What If We Stopped Pretending?, written by Jonathan Franzen in the New Yorker magazine. The subtitle of the article is The climate apocalypse is coming. To prepare for it, we need to admit that we can’t prevent it. The article boils down to a recognition that climate change is happening; we cannot go back to the world that we used to know; and there is not a whole lot that we can do about a continued increase in temperatures.

The article’s money quotations are,

Even at this late date, expressions of unrealistic hope continue to abound. Hardly a day seems to pass without my reading that it’s time to “roll up our sleeves” and “save the planet”; that the problem of climate change can be “solved” if we summon the collective will. Although this message was probably still true in 1988, when the science became fully clear, we’ve emitted as much atmospheric carbon in the past thirty years as we did in the previous two centuries of industrialization. The facts have changed, but somehow the message stays the same.

 . . . a false hope of salvation can be actively harmful. If you persist in believing that catastrophe can be averted, you commit yourself to tackling a problem so immense that it needs to be everyone’s overriding priority forever. One result, weirdly, is a kind of complacency: by voting for green candidates, riding a bicycle to work, avoiding air travel, you might feel that you’ve done everything you can for the only thing worth doing. Whereas, if you accept the reality that the planet will soon overheat to the point of threatening civilization, there’s a whole lot more you should be doing.

 

Our Sarajevo Moment

Archduke-Ferdinand--Sarajevo
Archduke Franz Ferdinand (1863-1914)

This year we spent a few days in Belgium and France visiting various World War I sites, including The Somme and Passchendaele. That war, in which millions of soldiers and civilians were slaughtered, was triggered by a relatively minor incident: the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand and his wife in the town of Sarajevo in the modern day Bosnia/Herzegovina. For years the great powers of Europe had been building their military capability, both on land and at sea. But it took this apparently random event to trigger the “War to End All Wars”.

As we look at our world now, we seem to be in a similar situation. However, the danger is not of war per se, but of a tipping point that will trigger a cascade of crises to do with the fact that that we are depleting the world’s finite resources, particularly crude oil. As I write these words a major oil field/refinery in Saudi Arabia is burning as a consequence of an apparently minor event: an attack by just ten drones. Could this be the first domino to fall? No one knows, of course. Probably we will muddle through, just as we have muddled through previous potential crises. But, sooner or later, I suspect that an event such as this week’s attack could indeed be a tipping point, a “Pearl Harbor moment”.

Saudi Arabia oil facilities fire drone attack

Proper 18: Monasticism

Cistercian Nun

Every week, as time permits, I look at the lectionary readings for that week and try to interpret them in the context of the Age of Limits.

Appointed Gospel

This week’s gospel (September 8th 2019, Year C) is from Luke 14:25-33

Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, `This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’

Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

Monasticism

Benedict by Hermann Nigg (1849-1928)
Benedict. Hermann Nigg (1849-1928)

This is a tough passage. Are we really to hate our family members? Most of us would say, “No”. Yet there is one group of people who have given up their worldly life, including their families: those who live the monastic or “religious” life.

As the western Roman Empire declined we have seen how men such as Augustine provided a spiritual and theological foundation for the church. Another movement that became very important in the waning days of the Empire was monasticism. The name usually associated with this movement is Benedict of Nursia (480-547 CE). The first Benedictine monastery was established at Monte Cassino in Italy in the year 529 CE., southeast of Rome

Although he did not found an order, as such, he did set up a system for the monastic life that was widely adopted. The monks live in community under the direction of their Abbot. But they also pursue their own personal, spiritual vocations. Benedict wrote the famous “rule” that still directs life in Benedictine monasteries. The rule is strict, but not harsh. Although deeply spiritual, the order was practical and sensible.

The Benedictine ideals are condensed into three principles: poverty, chastity and obedience. Their way of life is demanding, but not harsh; it is built around a spirit of balance, moderation and reasonableness. It is also built around the discipline contained in the words ora et labora: pray and work.

It was these communities that did much to hold the civilization of the old western empire together for the next 500 years or so. They provided cultural continuity following the decline of the western Empire. In particular, they copied religious and secular texts, thus preventing the knowledge in these texts from disappearing.

Although very few people are called to the monastic vocation, Benedict’s guidance is useful for Christians living now in our world — a world that is slowly, but irreversibly slipping into material decline. We are not going to jump from our SUVs to a Cistercian monastery all at once, point that is made by Rod Dreher in his book The Benedict Option.  Dreher recognizes that the church is no longer at the center of western civilization. Indeed, he refers to the modern church as a, “chaplaincy to a consumer culture”. The book’s sub-title is ‘A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation’. He uses the Benedictine way of life as guidance for all Christians, including those who are not formally part of a monastic community.  (As the Age of Limits starts to bite I anticipate a revival of the monastic movement within the Christian church.)

One of the fundamental challenges faced by Christians when confronted with climate change and all the other issues that we talk about is whether to respond by modifying one’s personal life, or whether to work top-down, i.e., with political systems at national and international levels.  In practice, most of us will do some of each. We will also gravitate to the area that best fits our talents and personalities. The monastic idea provides a good example. The monks lived a strict lifestyle, but they were also part of the larger world.

Theology

In the book that I am writing, and at this blog site, I am trying to work out a theology that is appropriate for our time. It can be based on the following three points:

  1. Understand and tell the truth.
  2. Accept and adapt.
  3. Live within the biosphere both material and spiritually.

I have highlighted the third point to do with living within the biosphere. By living simply, those in the monastic community give us an example of how to live well without dominating the world around us.


Article: Climate Change and the Gospel

There is not a lot of literature to do with the theology of climate change, and even less to do with other Age of Limits issues such as resource depletion. However, the article Climate Change and the Gospel written by David Atkinson provides some interesting thoughts and guidance on these lines.

The following quotation will probably resonate with busy church parishioners.

I suspect that underneath some of the lack of urgency among Christians, is a belief that environmental concern, or ‘creation care’ if you prefer, is not really a Christian priority. It is not central to the gospel of Jesus Christ, though it is a worthy thing to do if you have time. So we may have an ‘Environment Sunday’ once a year to ‘do our bit’. Or maybe an extra hour on the already overloaded theological college curriculum to discuss climate change. Perhaps we may try to get the idea of solar panels on our church roof past the Diocesan Advisory Committee, the Victorian Society, the Heritage Lottery Fund, and the local brigadier who lives next to the church. But, please, with endless diocesan initiatives  for mission, with assemblies to take in the church school, with a couple of funerals a week, with trying to keep alive our Partnership Link with an overseas diocese, with constant pressure to up our diocesan quota, and with dwindling numbers in the congregation, please do not ask us to do any more!

 I believe that Christian people ought to be leading players in debates and in taking action about climate change. Because what ultimately matters is not scientific knowledge, or technology, or a change to our economic system – vitally important though all those are. What matters is how we see ourselves in God’s world, how we humans relate to the rest of God’s creation. It is about what makes for human flourishing and the wellbeing of all God’s creation, on which our life depends. This is about morality, and spirituality.

David Atkinson refers to the theological concept of the ‘Cosmic Covenant’ (Atkinson, 2015). It is a triangle consisting of God, humanity and the Earth. He says that is implicit in the first chapter of the Bible, when, after the emergence of all other creatures, humanity is created in ‘the image of God’.


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Proper 17: The Place of Honor

Christian humility

Every week, as time permits, I look at the lectionary readings for that week and try to interpret them in the context of the Age of Limits.

Appointed Gospel

This week’s gospel (September 1st2019, Year C) is from Luke 14:1, 7-14.

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, `Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, `Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Through a Glass Darkly

In this gospel reading we are told to be humble and not to choose the place of honor.

One aspect of the need to be humble is to understand that no one can predict the future accurately. We must understand that any forecast we make should be made tentatively and with an understanding that we could easily be proved wrong. But although we need to be cautious when we talk about what the future holds that does not mean that we cannot see an outline as to where we are going.

I keep coming back to the words of the Apostle Paul.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

1 Corinthians 13, 12

Even Paul, with his magnificent intellectual and spiritual gifts did not have a clear picture of the future. But this does not mean that he was blind — he could see and outline of what the future holds.

Theology

In the book that I am writing, and at this blog site, I am trying to work out a theology that is appropriate for our time. It can be based on the following three points:

  1. Understand and tell the truth.
  2. Accept and adapt.
  3. Live within the biosphere both material and spiritually.

I have highlighted the first of these three points, Understand and tell the truth. The nature of truth in our highly complex and rapidly changing society is difficult to discern. But that does not mean that we cannot see an outline; we need the courage to understand what is happening, otherwise we will not be able to work out the best response.

Book Progress

Books in the Library of Congress

I am working on a book with the working title A New City of God. Parts of the book are quite detailed, and some are technical. Therefore, in order to keep the book manageable in size, I have created a serious of Supplements. These will be available as .pdf files, and can be downloaded at no cost.

In the meantime, the first of these supplements is entitled The Green New Deal. In it I take a look at the proposal made by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her colleagues earlier this year from a Christian point of view. I conclude that its aspirations are great but that it does not pass the red face test with respect to engineering and project management realities. Nor does it call upon anyone to make any type of sacrifice — something that will be necessary in coming years.

The Sadness of Six Degrees

Book: Six Degrees

One of the most useful books on climate change is Six Degrees by Mark Lynas. The book has six core chapters — one for every 1°C increase in planetary temperatures over the pre-industrial baseline. Unlike many other books in this genre it is quite specific as to what the world will look like in coming years.

The author does not, however, provide dates as to when each degree of temperature rise will take place.  One reason for his hesitation to provide dates is that, when he when he wrote the book, he did not know how human society would respond to the predictions made by scientists such as himself. The book was published in the year 2007 — at that time there was a rather naïve assumption among many people that we, as a society, would react rationally and energetically to the warming of the earth.

The reality, of course, is that there has been no effective response, thus giving the book an air of sadness.

The final chapter is entitled ‘Choosing Our Future’. In it Lynas projects global temperature increases over the pre-industrial baseline, the level of CO2 that would create that increase, and the action that needs to be taken to avoid the increase. Here are some of the figures he uses.

  • One Degree. 350 ppm. Avoidance probably not possible.
  • Two Degrees. 400 ppm. Peak Global Emissions by 2015.
  • Three Degrees. 450 ppm. Peak Global Emissions by 2030.

Here are the actual concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere.

CO2 concentration in the atmosphere

Three conclusions can be drawn from this graph.

  1. The increase in CO2 is remarkably steady. In spite of all the conferences, resolutions and statements of good intent, the rate of increase of our emissions has not slowed down. (Indeed, it appears as if the rate of increase of the rate of increase is also positive.) In the year 2020 we will be at 420 ppm. If the trend continues unabated, we reach 450 ppm somewhere around the year 2040.
  2. Assuming that Lynas’ projections of temperature increase are correct, then 420 ppm means that we cannot avoid a 2.5°C increase. At 450 ppm global temperatures are about 3°C above the pre-industrial baseline.
  3. The target dates set by Lynas ten years ago seem now to be just wishful thinking.

I have used the following sketch already, and doubtless will use it again. Our responsibility is to create a sense of realistic hope.

Fatalism – Realistic Hope - Hopium

Realistically the earth is going to much warmer than it is now within the lifetime of many people reading this blog. But we should not be fatalistic — a 3°C world is very different from the one that we live in now, but it is livable. At the same time we need to avoid hopium — a vague, unjustified belief that “something will come up” or “they will think of something”.

Creating a Butterfly Garden

Creating a butterfly garden

One of my church colleagues publishes a blog called “Holy Comforter Creation Care”. In it she talks about the importance and value of native plants in our gardens. The latest post is Creating a Butterfly Garden.


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