“Not one member, but many” (1 Corinthians 12:14)
by Martin Davis
This is the text of a talk given to Churches Together, Shurdington, Cloucestershsire on 15 February 2015 by Martin Davis. Martin is a founder member of Green Christian, and coordinator for Cheltenham Christian Ecology Group. This talk includes a good description of Green Christian (formerly Christian Ecology Link):
My talk is in three parts, a short bible reflection; a word about my personal journey, and a word about the organization I represent. Your invitation to me arose because Peter and Brenda had been to some of the meetings I arranged on behalf of Cheltenham Christian Ecology Link.
Many people stumble over that word ECOLOGY: I found the following sentence helpful:
The subject matter of ecology is the whole natural world, including both the living and the non-living parts.
It could have been ECOLOGY that St Paul had in mind when he wrote (in Chapter 12 of the First Letter to the Corinthians):
The body consists not of one member but of many… [The world isn’t just made up of human beings.]
If the ear were to say, ‘I am not an eye, and so I do not belong to the body,’ that would not stop its belonging to the body… [We can’t opt out.]
The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’… [Each part of the world needs the others.]
It is precisely the parts of the body that seem to be the weakest which are the indispensable ones. [Think of the plankton on which marine life depends.]
…God has composed the body so that… each part may be equally concerned for all the others. If one part is hurt, all the parts share its pain…
So we can apply Paul’s words to our planet,
- - its inhabitants – some in very vulnerable situations
- - its animal/plant life – some faced with extinction
- - its natural resources – some under great pressure (water, e.g.).
It was last October when Brenda asked if I would come along on behalf of Christian Ecology Link. Since then, there has in fact been a change of name, in recognition of the difficulty some people have with that word ECOLOGY. It’s now Green Christian. But don’t get too worried! We’re not all members of the Green Party, and I’m not a member of any party.
This isn’t going to be a party political broadcast. A word or two about my own journey through life as a Christian. I was born in the War. My mother was from an Irish Catholic background, my father C of E – nonpractising. So, I was brought up in the Roman Catholic Church in an era when our services were all in Latin, and it was almost regarded as sinful to pray with other Christians.
I made my first Communion aged six and was presented with a souvenir, illustrated by the famous Leonardo da Vinci image of Jesus’ supper with his 12 friends on the day before his death. That picture sums up one very important aspect of being a Christian, namely believing that the Jesus, son of Mary, who lived amongst us was also son of God, and came to redeem mankind through his death on the cross.
This was the crux of the teaching I received during the ten years I was sent away to Roman Catholic boarding schools. I was confirmed there, and above all we were encouraged to be devout followers of Jesus as our saviour and redeemer.
So, my Christian faith at that time concentrated on redemption, and though we learnt at school about the natural world, there was little to connect our lives as Christians with God’s creation. I emerged from a relatively sheltered existence into life as a university student, where I found I came to meet and to like people who I discovered were steeped in other Christian traditions and others who were non-believers.
And it was the time of the Second Vatican Council in Rome, where much that I had been taught seemed to be up for grabs. All rather bewildering.
Fast forward 10 years, during which I qualified as a lawyer and my faith was like one of those books you put on the spare room bookshelf and never get round to open – pretty much neglected, in other words, save during the times when I happened to have a Roman Catholic girlfriend. So, there I was, a cradle Catholic and just a nominal Christian. What changed me?
One turning point was a TV report by John Pilger about the devastating floods in Bangladesh. I lived near Winchcombe at the time, and a group of local people of no particular belief decided to raise money for a clean water supply in one village there. They asked me to become involved on the legal side.
Another turning point was discovering a book with the famous earth-rise photograph (taken from Apollo 8) on the cover: one of its authors, Barbara Ward, was – I learnt – a committed Christian: she it is who is credited with coming up with the concept of sustainable development.
This book, “Only one earth, the care and maintenance of a small planet” said that We need to care for the Earth “for the survival of the human species, and for the creation [my italics] of decent ways of life for all the people of the world.”
Creation: well, of course I believed that God created the universe, but wasn’t that a once-for-all thing, that happened long ago? No, this seemed to say. Creation is an ongoing process, in which we are involved. We need to look after the Earth in order to create decent living standards for all those who share the planet with us, and that will come after us: we are, therefore, in a sense co-creators with God. Only one earth for the first time made sense for me (as a Christian) of creation – the world God made for us and in which we had to get along together.
Because there is only one earth. There is no Planet B. But what were we doing to this earth of ours? Those floods in Bangladesh had causes, I discovered. One of them was deforestation in the Himalayas.
Trees could be saved if these people used more efficient cookers. We in the West had the technology they needed. Were we, comparatively richer, going to pass by on the other side, as in the parable of the Good Samaritan?
I found, by the end of the 1970s, having been involved in a successful charity, that this was not merely a matter of charity, it was a matter of justice for our human sisters and brothers.
As St Paul writes, “God has composed the body so that… each part may be equally concerned for all the others.”
As a lawyer, I knew that justice depended on having the right laws, and that to secure a change in the law meant getting political. I hadn’t been a member of a political party up till then (and as I said I am not a member now), but I decided to join the relatively new Ecology Party (now of course called the Green Party).
My hope was that – as a new party – it would avoid the infighting I could see going on in the mainstream parties; but no. So I met up with a few others who I knew to be Christians within the Party, and in 1981 we started what is now Green Christian.
The aims were:
- to be a beacon of Christian values within politics (bringing those values to a secular movement), and
- to encourage those who find little awareness of the need to safeguard Creation within their worshipping communities.
Green Christian is a registered charity. It has no affiliation with any political party, and it welcomes all those who are looking to deepen their understanding of the meaning of living within God’s creation, and being part of it.
A friend recently put it to me that he was turned off Green Christian because when people become members, it’s as if they convert to another religion. So I need to stress the things we are NOT, and the first is that we are NOT another religion; nor are we a Green straightjacket – a sort of holier than thou Thought Police about green living. We recognise that there are shades of Green (perhaps not as many as 50), and everybody is not at the same place on the spectrum. Nor, finally, are we biased in favour of any one denomination – in fact I’ve never found anything about being a Green Christian that clashes with being a Roman Catholic.
So what IS Green Christian then?
* a members’ charity – all are welcome to join, on payment of an annual subscription (it varies according to your circumstances;
* it produces regular newsletters
* it organizes conferences and
* retreats & prayer services.
* Members get involved with other networks in campaigns & non-violent protests.
* Some take part in ecocell, a programme for local groups to explore the journey towards a sustainable life.
* There’s an online discussion forum – CELINK.
* Resources available – a website; leaflets (I have brought some along for you) and speakers.
So, to sum up, Green Christian doesn’t pretend to have all the answers, but it does help us to ask the right questions, e.g.
• about our dependence on fossil fuels
• about the way we farm the land
• about our economics: as Christians, we can hope to think and act longer term than the politicians
• about how we live our lives: we need to examine our own way of life, to see where our excesses may cause stress for the planet’s limited resources.
We are just Ordinary Christians who recognise these are extraordinary times.