Monthly Blog

God's love through the Earth

posted 17 Jul 2018, 01:31 by Martyn Goss

All relationship with God is through the Earth.

We are not floating spirits or disembodied entities drifting through nebulae. As human beings we are ‘earthlings’ created and born through the physical world. We are composed of minerals, bacteria, chemicals, water and air. Every one of us breathes and exists through the generosity and hospitality of the planet that holds us.

Our physicality also determines our spiritual life - all relationship with God is through the Earth.

When we therefore damage and destroy that Earth we are damaging and destroying our relationship with the divine. At one level, it is as simple as that. The biosphere is full of the goodness and holiness of the divine but we desecrate (or de-sacralise) this every time our lifestyle discards matter that the planet cannot readily absorb or recycle.

The danger of a thoroughly consumerist, globalised world is that the natural processes that uphold the its life-support mechanisms are being systematically being eroded. The water, nitrogen, carbon and other cycles are increasingly out of balance. Human activity is cumulatively undermining planetary health.

Our pervasive demand for more and more energy and water, cannot be satisfied, and the ecological consequences of it are getting out of control. Changes in the Gulf-Stream prompted by melting ice sheets are leading to extra energy in the Jet Stream. This energy is now affecting weather systems and resulting in more and more extreme weather events.

As we know too well, all over Europe this Summer excessive temperatures are threatening water supplies, food growing and human well-being.

These environmental challenges are well known, but what is not appreciated is how they may affect our relationship with God.

The Biblical and Christian tradition (and that of many other faith and belief systems) is very clear. We are to live within certain guidelines because God creates the carrying capacity of the Earth within particular scientific laws.

Sadly, many of our churches seem to have lost this narrative: the biblical vision of every family living under their fig tree and grape vine as part of a wider community dependent on the generosity of Yahweh through the Earth (erets), was fundamental to the vision of the ‘Kingdom of God’. All people are to be freed from debt, past failings are to be forgiven, and the resources of the world taken from the rich in a wave of radical redistribution of wealth. This is the tradition of the Sabbath (shabbat) and Jubilee (yobel).

Today, we seem to have forgotten all this in a culture of excessive materialism where what is valued is that which entertains us (including in church!). The importance of always including the vulnerable and the weak is lost in a flurry of self-protectionism. ‘No migrants here’, we cry, conveniently disregarding the fact that most of us have refugee blood in our families – and that our continuing to export proxy wars and deadly weapons is prompting the very conflicts that produce displaced peoples.

The Church states that Jesus is the good news. Yet Jesus himself tells us that the Gospel is purposeful liberation for the poor and oppressed (Luke 4:16-21). St. Paul emphasises that God is love, whilst often our churches preach messages of fear and distrust. We seek to avoid risk of one kind or another, but taking risks is fundamental to who we are before God (Matthew 25:31-46). The Scriptures implore us to accept strangers and love our enemies, but modern church life comfortably excludes anyone who threatens the status quo.

It is as if the institutional life of the Church, with all its social attachments to power, prestige and privilege, pushes out the incarnational hope that human life is rescuable in spite of all the signs to the contrary.

And undergirding our complacency is a frequent ignoring of the human place as part of the wider Creation. When we destroy habitats and crush species, we not only damage the fragile web of life, we also ultimately damage ourselves and our relationship with the Holy.

What will change this? A crisis in our supply lines? A turning away from Mammon? A re-embracing a love of Nature? A recognition that consumerism destroys our deeper selves? A reconnection with the Earth through the soil? A total rejection of plastic lifestyles?

Probably all of these, but also a strong rediscovery that our ultimate destiny is wound up in that of all life. It is only through relationships of care, compassion and conciliation with that we can really satisfy and fulfil ourselves. It is in being loved that we find completion, and in loving that we are freed to complete others…

 

Martyn Goss, July 2018

 

 

May-June blog

posted 22 May 2018, 06:48 by Martyn Goss

Question for us all: who on Earth am I?

The matter of self-awareness and who we believe we are is probably the most critical, and yet frequently ignored of our lives.   Generally speaking we do not think much about our identity and for most of the time are content to go with the social labels and titles ascribed to us – neighbour, friend, parent, child, sibling, relative, colleague, and so on.

We rarely give a second thought to our roles other than the obvious, and how we relate to the wider community around us is usually determined by these narrow functions.

However, who others say we are (who do you say that I am?) is fundamental for most of our happiness and human fulfilment.  We spend an enormous amount of energy, time and money on our self-images.  We go out of our way to impress others with an unceasing barrage of fashion items, musical choices, displays of technology and cultural jargon.

Why do we do this?  Consciously or unconsciously we use other people as mirrors who reflect some kind of image of ourselves back to us.  We can only fully know who we are through others and these reflections profoundly determine how we see and feel about ourselves.

But one of the problems we have in our contemporary society is that approaches to self-identity are so individualistic.  We do not see ourselves in relation to a community as much as self-contained personalities isolated in a fragmented world.  Eventually we are pushed into asking ‘who do you say I am?’, and building our personae around those who are closer friends or family.

This lack of confidence in a broader common identity lies at the heart of our discomfort about Brexit.  We attempt to identify ourselves within smaller comfortable circles and ignore the wider history and context of our humanity.  We set ourselves up as ‘little Englanders’ or ‘parochial residents’ without reference to any larger picture.

Personally, I am happy to identify myself as a native Devonian, and a citizen of Exeter as part of the South West of England. But I am also a Brit, a European and a global human being.  None of these stands over and against the others.  Because I may be called a Christian, does not preclude me from standing alongside my sister and brother Muslims, Hindus or Humanists.   Because I was born in Exeter does not prevent me from loving Plymouth as Devon’s other city.  Because my skin colour is pale, I can still have an affinity with those who have darker complexions.   My role as a father and husband is also part of my position as an active citizen and member of local community organisations.

My own approach is both-and, not either-or.  This attempt to be more holistic extends also to my relationship with the Earth.  My humanness is sustained and developed by my living in cooperation with Nature, not working against her.  I am a part of an amazing, ongoing evolutionary process of life - not apart from it.

That which fractures, divides and fragments is unhealthy.  It is also seen as ‘sinful’ in the Christian tradition because separation and segregation are not part of the divine plan for peace and wholeness.  The God of Christianity (and other faiths) is a God of togetherness.  Walls, chasms, electric fences, even national barriers, can contradict the essentially integral message of liberation or salvation. It is only together that we can complete the task of growing into who we might become. It is only together that gifts are shared and needs met.

The real question we need to address is not who on Earth am I, but who on Earth are we? No wonder we get our priorities wrong!

 We are here to build community through caring relationships.  That is really how we can develop identities of solidarity, building up a balanced society at ease with itself, not debased by greed, but as one in a culture of communing, caring and embracing…


Quote:


The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for its destruction


Rachel Carson

April Blog

posted 5 Apr 2018, 06:43 by Martyn Goss

Greetings for Eastertide 2018!

Some people, including those of faith, say we need to care for Creation and look after the Earth.  But I am not sure that they are right! 

In reality, the environment is well able to care for itself.  The (God-given) laws of physics, chemistry, biology, etc. ensure that life evolves healthily. Where there is a wound, Nature heals it.  When there is fracture, natural processes will prompt repair.  Where there is a void, it is filled by the very nature of life.  Mother Earth looks after herself and her own. 

What we perhaps need to do more is not so much care for but care about what is happening to the whole planet.  We need to care that we are producing excessive amounts of carbon, or particulate matter, or disposable plastics.  We should care about the effects of gross consumerism on fragile economies, or poor air quality on children, or loss of species due to unsustainable farming practices. 

However, when we start caring about what’s going on, we inevitably end up needing to examine ourselves and our lifestyles.  We actually conclude by campaigning against ourselves – to reduce our insatiable greed, our uncontrolled desires, our own selfish demands.

As with tackling poverty, we not only have to start giving back charitably, we have also to stop our economic systems from taking unjustly from the poor and the environment in the first place.  It is not enough to comfortably distribute handouts.  We need to seek what is right and prevent life being broken or impoverished beforehand.

In scriptural language we are to seek kindness and mercy, but they are to be accompanied by righteousness and justice.  This is at the heart of caring about……

I would not dismiss the importance of what some call ‘stewardship’ – looking after things well. Yet in biblical terms the word ‘steward’ is applied either to someone caring for a specific plot of land (vineyard, garden or field) or, as more often, an amount of money (in Greek an ‘oikonomou’).  To simply apply the term stewardship to the entire inhabited earth is to disregard the capacity for the Earth to self-regulate and to overlook the stronger biblical emphasis on the holiness of the world.

“And God saw that it was good – and it was very good” – that off repeated sentence from Genesis 1 and 2, reads as an understatement.  That is until we realise the words ‘good’ and ‘God’ derive from the same root in English.  So as we may say “God is good”, we may equally say “the Earth is godly!”. 

Surely this has to be a fundamental reason why Christians and others should take the environment seriously – because it is a place of holiness. That is why caring about has to be at the heart of our behaviour. The planet is sacred and we should not desecrate her.  In as much as we do this unto the Creation, we also do it unto the Creator…..

 Seasonal best wishes - Martyn Goss

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