Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Use Your Loaf!

The LOAF Principles
Christian Ecology Link is asking churches to use their ‘loaf’ and follow one or more of the LOAF principles when planning any communal meal like a Harvest Celebration, Alpha Supper or regular church meal.

CEL has produced LOAF ‘placemats’ which can be photocopied to provide A4 sheets to go in each person’s place. We hope these will stimulate discussion and encourage people to think about our responsibility towards the environment.

Decisions on what food we provide can have far reaching effects and can influence the way food is produced and animals are treated. As the Council for the Protection of Rural England says, ‘Changing national and EU farm policy is difficult -- you can make a difference by buying local farm produce.’,Locally produced food means shorter journeys for farm animals to markets and abattoirs, fewer miles travelled from farms to shops and therefore less climate damaging green house gas emissions from lorries, less demand for new roads, support for the local economy and local farmers, and regional variety.

Organically grown food avoids the use of synthetic pesticides and herbicides and artificial fertilisers. Organic cultivation leads to a healthier soil with more organic material,micro-organisms and other wildlife,and no genetically engineered organisms released into the countryside. CEL supports the setting of targets for 30% of UK farmland to be farmed organically by 2010. CEL also supports moves for the rest of the land to be farmed in more sustainable ways such as integrated crop management systems.

Animal friendly means that our fellow creatures, under God, are treated humanely. Organically reared animals are subject to strict welfare regulations, as are the animals sold by the Real Meat Company. Free range eggs and meat are now readily available. Fairly traded food and drink such as coffee, tea, cocoa, bananas and honey are labelled as such. The ‘Fairtrade’ label guarantees that when food or drink has to be imported, the overseas workers who produce it get a fair wage. Farmers in the UK also need a fair price for their produce.

A loaf of bread is the staple food for many people. Bread is also full of symbolic meaning for Christians. Jesus blessed and broke bread and gave it to his disciples saying, ‘Do this in remembrance of me.’ In St John’s Gospel Jesus is described as ‘The Bread of Life’.

Can you use your LOAF to make a difference? Log onto http://www.christian-ecology.org.uk/loaf.htm and see!

Sunday, 21 October 2007

God Rules... OK!

It was in early summer several years ago that I was opening the Church in the morning when I saw what appeared to be a few leaves in the Church porch. As I bent down to pick them up I realised that it was the body of a baby swallow that had fallen from its nest high in the porch. It didn’t stir as I picked it up and first I thought that it was dead, then, as I looked at the limp body, the eyes opened and it regarded me with an unblinking stare. I was all but riveted to the spot as this tiny piece of creation, about half the size of my little finger, held me in its gaze.

I had recently been investigating the latest wonders of miniaturisation in the fields of engineering and science. I had marvelled at the ability of one ‘wire’ to carry thousands of separate communication channels, wondered at the sophistication of the latest Formula 1 cars and been intrigued by the computer that, modelled on the construction of the human brain, ‘dreamt’ when switched off. Here though, I was actually face to face with an example of miniaturisation on a scale well beyond the reach of any scientist or engineer.

This tiny being had the ability to grow, reproduce, fly, eat on the wing, sleep on the wing, navigate over the continent and the strait of Gibraltar to Africa, and then find it’s way back thousands of miles to the Church porch again, as generations of its family had previously, all with a brain, a control system as small as a shrivelled pea.

As it warmed up in my hand it settled down comfortably, yet never took its eyes off me. I went round to the shed in the rectory garden and found a ladder; meanwhile this atom of life regarded my every move. Placing the ladder up high and climbing it, I held the tiny being close to the nest when, for a moment, like the hand of a small child it held on trustingly and then was gone, back into the nest.

After putting the ladder away I went back and watched from a distance as the returning parents fed their offspring and I remembered the articles I had been reading about mankind’s results at miniaturisation, these now appeared feeble and I felt like putting a sign up below the nest saying… “God rules, OK!”

Lord Jesus, without you we are helpless, lift us up, and make us complete… Amen.

The Theory of a 'Just War.'

We have all heard and read over the last few years, particularly in respect of the Iraq conflict, the expression ‘Just War.’ The principles of a theory of a ‘Just War’ are firmly rooted in the Christian Tradition. They were first laid down by St Augustine in 410 AD in a response to the ever-increasing closeness between the Church and the state. As the nature of war has evolved over the years so have the theories and the principles involved, and since 410 AD theologians and philosophers have developed the following eight recognised principles. I will leave it to you to decide if they have been adhered to in any particular situation…

Just cause
: defence against violent and unjustified aggression against the state, or a neighbourhood state unable to defend itself.
Just intention: to restore peace to friend and foe. Revenge and hatred are unacceptable reasons for going to war
Last resort: all other efforts, including international negotiation, would have to have failed.
Proper authority: the decision to go to war must have been at the highest national or international authority level and with an official declaration of hostility.
Limited ends: war must be waged for limited ends, only to repel aggression and redress injustice.
Proportionality: the means to wage war must be proportional to the offence. The evils of the conduct of the war must not exceed the evils of the cause.
Protection of non-combatants: civilians must be protected from intentional attack.
Reasonable chance of success: if a just peace cannot be achieved then war would serve no purpose.

With regard to the last two points and in respect of modern weapons, the Catholic Church, at the second Vatican Council in 1962, declared that ‘they can inflict immense and indiscriminate havoc which goes far beyond the bounds of legitimate defence.’ There has been a suggestion that a ninth principle be added in order to rule out long-term environmental damage and to highlight the ‘need to protect the innocent future.’ Sadly this is still only a suggestion.

Saturday, 13 October 2007


"Sometimes people confuse norms with ethics — exploitation of child labour, bribery and kickbacks may be the norm, but that doesn't mean they're right"
A quote from Joseph Reitz, co-director of the International Centre for Ethics in Business at the University of Kansas.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

So, why are you an environmentalist vicar?

An oft-asked question! Briefly, Adam was put into the garden to tend and care for it; the word used ‘subdue’ also has the dictionary meaning ‘to cultivate.’ The fall of Adam caused God’s curse to fall upon the earth and Adam to return to the earth when he died. Jesus died not only to release from the bondage of sin those that would accept Him, but also to release the earth from the bondage of Adams sin, in Romans 8:22 Paul writes ‘and we know that the whole of creation has been groaning.' Matthew’s Gospel tells of one earthquake when Jesus was laid in the tomb and another at the resurrection; the earth was not mute to these two events. The first person to meet Jesus after the resurrection was Mary Magdalene who mistook Him, the second Adam, for the gardener, and surely there is a message to us all there. While each of us lives creation is Jesus gift to us, but creation does not exist for us it exists for Him. The Bible tells us that the earth is God’s footstall, but the word footstall in the context that it was written meant a resting place. So the earth is where God’s presence is to be found and as far as I am concerned, our respect and care for the earth must follow. We may never know our great grand children, but by what we leave to them, they will certainly know of us, because, in the words of Exodus 20:5 our sins will surely punish them.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

What is Truth?

When at Jesus trial, Pilate asked Jesus the question “What is truth?” Pilate was echoing a sincere point of view that has been heard on every subject over the centuries. For example, had the outcome of WW2 been different then our history of that event would not be the same. The truths that we have taught to us in our every-day lives are, as Pilate understood, the same as the truths of every age, they are written by the victors of the particular situation or circumstance.

This is the collected wisdom of human experience, yet if it were correct, then under no circumstances should there be a Christian Religion. Jesus was born over 2000 years ago into a situation of poverty. He possessed no goods, nor owned no property, wrote no books, did not travel far, held no public office and was executed 32 years later as a criminal. This should not have been a victory, so why through the centuries has Jesus been such an influence upon the lives of millions?

The truth, as Pilate perhaps suspected, is that Jesus is the Son of God.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

The human cost of Palm Oil and Bio Fuels

If anyone ever thought that it was just biscuits that Oil Palm production is used for, then this is wrong, in fact Palm Oil is present in one out of every ten supermarket products. The development of palm Oil plantations has been responsible for nearly 90% of deforestation in malaysia, in Sumatra and Borneo four million hectares of rainforest are being cleared and in Indonesia sixteen million hectares are being cleared. (All the above are Friends Of The earth figures.)
Prior to the planting of the Oil Palms, the felled trees are often burnt, releasing carbon and usually covering the areas in smog. The dryer lands in the regions are rapidly being used up, and so the swamp areas are being drained and cleared. these swamp areas are mainly peat, and as they dry they release the carbon locked into them.
As the clearing of the Rainforests occurs the thousands of indigenous people that live there are evicted and in Indonesia some five hundred people have been imprisoned and tortured when they tried to resist the clearances. In addition to this many of the animals that live in these areas are facing extinction. (Green Peace info.)
Biodiesel is being produced from Palm Oil, and the main Palm Oil refineries will be making Biodiesel from Palm Oil sourced from Malaysia and Indonesia, but there is yet another problem lurking in the wings when this happens. The GM companies are reinventing themselves on the back of Palm Oil 'development.' The worry is that the GM Biodiesel Palm Oil plants will either cross over to the food palm by accident or perhaps, by design!
I often have mentioned to me that the production of Diesel fuel from recycled vegetable cooking oil could be an answer. This is, sadly, not the case. If all the vegetable cooking oil in the Uk was recycled and use as fuel for Diesel cars them it would provide only one 380th (.26%) of our transport needs. (The Guardian.)
Another alternative fuel (for petrol cars) is Bioethanol E85. This is mainly produced by corn distilation providing alcohol. This has resulted in a world corn price increase and the problem of ever increasing starvation for many Third World countries as due to crop shortages because of Global Warming they rely on imported grain to feed their populations.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Information Poverty In The Information Age

It is an illusion that we live in a world overflowing with information. Instant information like supermarket shelves packed full of cheap food is a developed world phenomenon.

In Ghana research has concluded that if mothers start breastfeeding within one hour of birth, then 22% of babies who die in the first 28 days could be saved. “What is so exiting about this research is that the solution does not need costly medicines, we just need to get across the simple message,” said Secretary of State Hillary Benn. AIDS education is also of enormous importance in the Third World, but often the problem is again in getting that ‘simple message’ across to those that need it.

After the earthquake that hit Pakistan last October, many in remote areas died due to lack of knowledge of where aid was available. Perhaps you remember the TV crews that managed to reach these victims when by contrast, the aid didn’t.

In 2004 the island of Hispaniola was hit by hurricane Jeanne, warnings were issued on the Dominican Republic side the day before the storm struck and fatalities were kept down to 23. In the neighbouring Haitian side there was no way to effectively spread the warning, and over 2,000 died.

It would be easy to carry on with other examples of information poverty; the tragedy is that it would cost so little to rectify this situation. To give one example an airdrop of cheap solar powered single station transistor radios in the remote regions of Pakistan, after the 2005 earthquake, broadcasting the information regarding available aid, would have saved many lives.

We in the developed world exist on a diet of electrical power and information, yet for us it is not usually the matter of daily survival or life and death it often is for those in the Third World. The sad fact is that the technology to rectify this problem is both cheap and readily available for the people of Third World, what is lacking is the will in the Western World to deliver it.

In Ashford Kent, engineer Graham Knight heads a small charity called BioDesign. Their concern is to rectify this situation, mainly with the supply and distribution of small solar electrical panel kits to the Third world. Sunlight, the source of solar power, is one commodity that the Third World usually has an excess of, yet power is a commodity that is a scarce resource. BioDesign supplies the basic solar panel parts required that enable people to use their energy and local available materials, e.g. plywood backing and wire, in order to build completed units to the required size and power output. In doing this they gain the skills and education that will lift them out of the poverty trap, as well as having job satisfaction and the knowledge that the finished articles will have many applications. They are used to recharge mobile phones, power radios, charge batteries for lighting and run fans, in addition to other applications.

The BioDesign ethos is to help people out of poverty by giving them access to the life saving educational information and skills that all of us in the developed world have at our fingertips. Unless the situation changes quickly, you are now more aware of the information regarding breastfeeding in Ghana than most of the Ghanaian mothers to be and no doubt you are also more aware of AIDS than the many of those living in the third world.

Battery transistor radios are universal throughout the Third World, but rely on batteries that are expensive, and of uncertain quality. The means of mass communication for news, entertainment and most importantly, education, are potentially there but as the African nations become even poorer, the numbers able to access these radio broadcasts are falling.

The photo shows a BioDesign solar panel. In Africa this would be assembled by one of the small local companies that receive the solar panels and then fitted to the owner’s radio, the cost being the equivalent of two sets of batteries. The solar panel users are soon financially better off, and in addition the problems regarding environmental pollution caused by the batteries disposal is solved, as they are no longer used!

Mobile phone coverage, due to satellite operation, is good in much of the Third World and the opportunities provided by this coverage are many. In one Bangladesh village there was no power and no phone until a loan scheme provided a mobile phone and a solar panel for charging. These were rented out to a woman in the village who makes a minimal charge for calls, so covering her overheads and making a small profit. The village now has a lifeline to and from the world beyond.

Solar lighting also enables hospitals, homes and businesses to operate in safer conditions when it gets dark, as often the only other available source of light is from paraffin lamps which are fire hazards and give off toxic fumes. In India alone the average household without access to electricity uses around 120 litres of expensive paraffin a year, which equates to around 310 kg of carbon released into the atmosphere, multiply this by millions and I am sure you will get the picture. In the poorest and remotest areas of the world, where paraffin is not available, the inhabitants have to use wood for lighting as well as cooking and these are usually the areas where wood is a now a scarce resource. Were you aware of the fact that inhaling smoke from indoor fires is the fourth greatest cause of death and disease in the third world?

In the use of solar energy we have a win, win situation. I have wondered why governments do not support 100% companies such as BioDesign, but I am sure that if sunbeams could be turned into weapons of war then we would have had solar power long ago…

Jesus ministry was to the poor the sick and the neglected, and His followers were commanded to follow Him and He told us that as much as we have done it for them, we have done it for Him. To see just what is being achieved for the disadvantaged by the small-scale solar power in Africa described above, please log on to www.christian-aid.org.uk go to the video section and run ‘Power to the people-part 1.’

The World's Great faiths

There has been much talked and written about in the media regarding the ‘Great Faiths’ recently, assuming it seems that we all know what they are. I suspect that most know as much as I did before I went to theological college, i.e. very little indeed. So if you are in the same boat as I was, here is a potted introduction.
Began in India, believe there is a God behind everything, so 300 million gods would not be considered too many. Colourful temples with a very relaxed atmosphere, very tolerant and welcoming as any other faith is regarded as another form of Hinduism.
Began with one man, Siddharta Gautama, born in India in 560BC. He became the enlightened one, The Buddha, a teacher who refused to be worshiped as a God. Colourful temples with statues, calm meditation and prayer, but often discipline can be austere.
Began in the Punjab by Guru Nanak around 1500 AD. Nine successive Gurus have succeeded him since then. The Sikhs holy book is read and hymns are sung in colourful temples called gurdwaras; the men wear turbans as an outward sign of their religion.
Began in the Eastern Mediterranean with the patriarchs, Abraham and his descendents. Belief is of a covenant between God and the Jews; worship is in word and songs in synagogues…the Hebrew Bible is written on scrolls and comprises of teaching, in addition to The Old Testament, of collections of writing called the Mishnah and the Talmud.
Began in Arabia with Muhammad (c570-632 AD) the final prophet or messenger of God. Allah inspired him to write the Qur’an, which completed the final revelation to the Jews and Christians. Worship is in mosques, full of space and empty of images.
Began with one man, Jesus of Nazareth, born a Jew in the Eastern Mediterranean, a teacher who was crucified as a criminal and was revered as God in human form when he rose from the dead. His story is recorded in The New Testament, worship is through word and hymn in church buildings.

You can see just how much has been left out of the Christian faith by just giving a short description. Likewise each other faith has as many varieties within it as Christianity, some have more! However, it is only Christianity that teaches of how God came down from Heaven to Earth and took on our humanity in order to show us, by His example, how to live our lives.