Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Mission, pioneer ministry, and climate change

I increasingly feel a kind of a disconnect with a lot of what I read in the realm of pioneer ministry, fresh expressions of church, and that kind of thing. I try to keep up with a few books and articles and websites. I certainly have a lot to learn and I'm always grateful for anyone who is able to share their experience and reflection.

But when it comes to the foundational questions of what we're doing and why, I feel a kind of disconnect. Not just because I'm liberal and pluralistic, though of course that is a difference. But because I have a totally different sense of what is urgent and important.

Christian writers on fresh expressions of church and mission seem to talk as if the greatest problem is secularisation. As if the greatest problem in the world is that people don't go to church, that denominations are in decline, that there are generations and cultures of people missing from our churches. This is true of liberal churches as much as conservative ones. 

But I can't help wondering, is that what God is worried about? In the twenty-first century - is that what's breaking God's heart?

Would the world be that different if a few more people went somewhere different on a Sunday morning? Would the world be that different if this denomination or another continued its existence, or didn't, for a couple more generations? Would the world be that different if a few more, or a few fewer, people ticked the "Christian" box in the census form?

Of course, a sensible Christian response would be, "well, of course there's more to it than that, it's about salvation and a relationship with Jesus." And that's fine. It's not my theology, but even if it was, I'd want to ask - is that good enough for Jesus? And whose salvation are we talking about? A few more souls going to heaven as the earth burns?

Because we're in an absolute planetary crisis right now. We're in a mass extinction event. And in that context I find that kind of talk to be frankly not damn good enough. I find it to be narrow-minded, I find it to be parochial.

It seems to be that if God worries about anything, God worries about massive human suffering caused by droughts and floods and millions forced to move off land that no longer sustains them. God worries about humans dying of malnutrition. God worries about a beautiful diversity of plants and animals going extinct.

It seems to me that if God desires one thing it is people transformed to live in a simpler, more joyful, and gentler way. God desires people to feel a relationship with God, but not just with the human projection of God, but a God experienced through relationship with the planet and all that is. God desires people working for a revolution of our economic and political systems to something more in balance with reality. It is this spiritual, personal, communal, economic, and political transformation that God desires.

In that context a few more people going to church hardly seems to matter, unless that church is a community in the business of this spiritual transformation. Of course a great many churches are not in this business, so their survival is not something I'm going to worry about I'm afraid.

I'm still very early in my days of pioneer ministry, but I increasingly have a sense that this work is about the transformation towards a radical spirituality that will sustain us through the climate crisis. My work is to join in with those activists who desire a transformed world, bringing in the perspective of the inner work that sustains and gives hope to the outer work. My work is to be alongside others who see spirituality as an essential ingredient to the work of transformation, whether they are Buddhist, pagan, Hindu, or anything else. I don't want to be parochial and anyone walking on this path with me is my ally, and I am theirs. In my view they are doing the mission of God.

I will continue to work from a Jesus-centred spirituality. I will continue to be rooted in a radical Jesus tradition of simplicity, love, and justice. And I would love to grow a community of disciples with a Universalist sense of the inclusive love of God, with a Unitarian sense of the importance of deeds and not creeds. But only if such a community is part of that mission of transformation that is the urgent desire of God.

Of course it's not all up to me. God is bigger than me and I don't have to solve all of the world's problems. Indeed my calling is to be hyper-local. I am really only called to do this work on a tiny bit of land a couple of miles long next to the River Taff. But I do it with a sense of being part of the global, cosmic work.

I do the work, not because I'm afraid of secularisation and church decline, not because I want some new, sexy, "relevant" expression of church. I so it because I believe spiritual transformation is the desire of God, and it is more urgent than it has ever been before. 

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Twelve Years to Stop the Climate Crisis

As has been reported this week, we have twelve years to keep climate change below a 1.5 degrees increase. Twelve years to stop a climate catastrophe that will kill millions. Twelve years to turn things around.

This will require a "unprecedented transitions in all aspects of society" - in other words it will require the kind of sacrifice, massive effort, and pulling together we last saw in the Second World War. It will require a complete transformation.

So basically if every business, political party, faith community, government is not putting climate change as their number one priority, they are being irresponsible.

We have twelve years - what are you going to do in the next twelve years?

There are certain lifestyle things we can do, sure: vegetarianism, stop flying so much, all that stuff, but that's not enough. Indeed, as some have argued it is a deliberate con to make us think we can stop climate change through personal consumer choices. It is a deliberate con to reduce social action to consumer choice, as opposed to collective action that brings powerful interests to account and demands systematic change.

I once heard Bill McKibben, the climate change activist, say, "I thought I was in an argument about climate change. It took me thirty years to realise we're not in an argument, we're in a war. A war against the fossil fuel companies. And we're losing."

Climate change is driven by the most powerful and richest in the world, it is caused by a massive fossil fuel industry who put massive lobbying effort into preventing effective action.

In the next twelve years we need massive collective organising, to demand change. This has to happen on all levels: the personal, the political, the economic.

I have said previously that I view the ultimate context of my pioneer ministry as the climate change crisis. My ultimate context is not secularisation or the narrow agenda of one particular religion among all the other religions. My ultimate commitment is the spirituality that will allow us to do the work for the next twelve years. Anything less than this does not take climate change seriously enough. Anything less than this is irresponsible and narrow sectarianism. We don't have time for that kind of nonsense anymore.