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Christianity As A Contributing Cause Of The Current Ecological Crisis

Durham Street Methodist ChristChurch New Zealand (Aotearoa) January 20, 2019 service led by Rev. Bill Wallace featuring some of his hymns.

 Our theme today is Christian Theology and global warming.

It follows on from the Baptism of Jesus featured 2 weeks ago. In his Baptism Jesus was immersed into the life of the ecosystem. Today we are challenged to have a similar immersion into the ecosystem remembering that the Earth does not belong to us but we belong to it. It is not a superior inferior relationship as in stewardship but as equal members of the one family yet it is true to say that while we cannot exist without the Earth, the Earth can exist without us.

Three thoughts to start with. The first from Teilhard de Chardin “Since, Lord, I your priest have today neither bread nor wine, nor altar, I lift towards you in my hands the totality of the universe; and make of its immensity the matter of my sacrifice . . .”

Secondly from Dag Hammarskjold “God does not die on the day when we cease to believe in a personal deity, but we die on the day when our lives cease to be illumined by the steady radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder, the source of which is beyond all reason.”

Thirdly from Jesus “God is Spirit and only by the power of Spirit will people worship God as God really is” John 4:24

I leave you to interconnect these three but we turn to a Contemporary BENEDICITE.  Benedicite literally means it speak well and usually refers to a blessing or a grace. In liturgical use it refers to “A song of Creation”. The refrain is in dark type.

LET THE WHOLE OF THE COSMOS
(Contemporary Benedicite)

1. Let the whole of the Cosmos praise you, praise you, O God.
Let each process and form praise you, O God.
Let all time and all space praise you, praise you,
Praise you, O God.

2. Let the stars in their billions praise you, praise you, O God.
Let the planets and Sun praise you, O God.
Let our World with its Moon praise you, praise you,
Praise you, O God.

3. Let the world of the atoms praise you, praise you, O God.
Let each grouping of genes praise you, O God.
Let each tissue and cell, praise you, praise you,
Praise you, O God.

4. Let the life of the waters praise you, praise you, O God.
Let the life of the air praise you, O God.
Let the life of the soil praise you, praise you,
Praise you, O God.

5. Let the dead and the living praise you, praise you, O God.
Let each country and tribe praise you, O God.
Let the vast web of life praise you, praise you,
Praise you, O God.

6. Let our deeds and our singing praise you, praise you, O God,
Till the whole of our days praise you, O God,As the Cosmos sings praise, bright praise, sweet praise,All praise to God.
© World Library Publications, Singing the Sacred, vol. 2, William L Wallace

QUOTATION

We shape our own apocalypse

1. We shape our own apocalypse,
We hold the keys to life on Earth.
We are the horsemen in John’s dream *
Who bring pollution, wars and death.

2. Our fires can turn the sap to ash
And hide the golden Sun’s bright beams
Polluting rivers and the sea
As we distort life’s many streams.

3. If all the creatures had a voice
They would cry out in great despair
“You do not own our living space
It’s there for all of us to share”.

4. “Too many people for Earth’s health
The other species need more space,
So please control your rate of growth
Till Earth becomes a sharing place”.

5. When we discover our true place
Within the eco-system’s web
We grow to treat all life with care
And cease what causes it to ebb.

6. Sing praise for beauty and for life
In all its great diversity
Unfolding signs of God’s great love

For all of Earth’s complexity.
* Revelation 6 / 1-7
©William Livingstone Wallace

HYMN: THIS EARTH IS IN A CRISIS
Tune: CRUGER

1. This Earth is in a crisis
Produced by climate change;
This Earth is over heating
Beyond its normal range.
Though life is still evolving
It cannot at the speed
Required for it adapting
To still produce its seed.

2. We humans cause this problem
Through ways that we consume
The oceans and the forests,
The heart of nature’s womb.
We need new ways of thinking
Beyond what we assume
Till earth becomes a treasure
And not a godless tomb.

3. If prayers are meant to change God
They may not aid our quest
For we are God’s own agents
God’s body at our best
So let’s draw strength from praying
And share God’s holy zest
For nurturing this planet
As life’s most sacred nest.

4. God loves the world, the scribes said,
God finds it very good.
Christ found God’s truth in nature
And in his daily food.
St Francis saw one family
Of life in field and wood
So let us join together
And stand where they have stood.

5. We now need to remember
The sacredness of Earth,
The friend we meet in dying,
The one who gives us birth
Till God in Earth is worshipped
For all it’s many ways
And songs of Earth evolving
Become our holy praise.
© William Livingstone Wallace

The ecological crisis has been created by a number of factors in the ideology of both the church and society that have evolved over the course of the last 2,000 years and which are finally having a devastating impact.

In order to understand the relationship of church and society we need to make a distinction between three levels of spirituality. First there is religion, secondly there is spirituality, and thirdly there is mysticism.

Religion is always a mixture of spirituality and culture in which at any given time one or other may prevail. At sometimes it is more culture than spirituality as in many war remembrance services. In all denominations there are cultural elements. Spirituality covers the area of knowledge about God which can be reflected in discussion and prayer. Spirituality includes talk about God while Mysticism is encounter with God. However some of the destructive concepts do have deep roots in Christianity as a religion as distinct from the teachings of Jesus. But first let us make a diversion to

SEEING THE BEAUTY IN THE LOCAL

HYMN: “When Mountains Stand” – a hymn about the Nor-West arch a spectacular cloud formation produced by the foehn effect, which results in amazing sunsets in some eastern areas in New Zealand including Christchurch.

1. When mountains stand uplifted high
And Nor’-West clouds unfold
A host of magic hopes and dreams
Emerge like woven gold.

2. When arching sky is lit by sun
Bright threads of light unwind
Creating cloth of blushing red,
A fabric love designed.

3. As pastel hues all join and dance
The ballet’s backdrops fade
Revealing gentle signs of God
In both the light and shade.

4. When hope evades our darkened mind
And thought avoids the sky
May wonder gift those mystic rays
Which wake our inner eye.
For score and sound file see two tunes on the Methodist Church of New Zealand website under Aotearoa Hymns.

Now to return to what has caused this Ecological Crisis?

1. The first factor is ANTHROPOCENTRISM i.e. placing human beings at the centre of everything.

The Bible is primarily about human beings and their control over nature. It was written by men, for men and should never be read in public without some explanation of how times have changed. The Jesus who used nature as a channel for conveying God’s wisdom and who fostered empowerment  and liberation has been transformed by St. Paul into a Saviour upon whom we should be dependent. St Paul saw nature mainly in negative terms and instead of being in opposition to the establishment, as Jesus was, urged us to be subject to the powers that be. It was Paul that turned the teachings of a prophetic mystic into a world religion. Paul’s interpretation of Jesus has lasted for 2,000 years but it is problematic whether that was what Jesus had in mind. In my opinion the teachings and actions of Jesus should be central to the service while St Paul’s should be more peripheral. The Beatitudes and the associated woes should I believe be used in each service to confront us with the radical teaching of Jesus.

HYMN Jesus gentle, meek and mild. TUNE Savannah

1. Jesus gentle, meek and mild
So one myth of Jesus goes
But he own’d prophetic fire
Which proclaimed a list of woes.

2.  Were these words that Jesus spoke
Or the words that others dreamt?
They were clearly words he spoke
For no person was exempt.

3. “Woe to you with riches now                Luke 6:24
Your own spirits are quite poor.
Woe when you feel satisfied                   Luke 6:25
You now need to grow much more”.

4. “Woe when all think well of you            Luke 6:26
You are like false prophets were.
Woe to you who falsehoods teach           Math 23:16
You are charlatan not seer.”

5. Wisdom which we need to heed
Tells how riches can defile,
How the rich manipulate
And distort behind their smile.

6. Our own culture now is sick
And our spirits underfed;
To consume, compete and own
Form the goals to which we’re led.

7. We all need to re-awake
Dormant powers of wonderment
Which transform our view of life
Into one great sacrament.

Text:  © William Livingstone Wallace

There are two other factors that are enshrined in the Hebrew scriptures.

The first is that God gives some people ownership of land in preference to others hence the dispossession of the Canaanites by the Hebrews is regarded as an action approved of by God. In that lies the roots of today’s Palestinian problem.

The whole concept of ownership of land is a denial of the rights of indigenous peoples and of the ecosystem as a whole.

Linked to this is the concept of dominion over the ecosystem. This may be watered down to stewardship but it is a superior inferior relationship and does not reflect the fact that we are more dependent upon the rest of the ecosystem than it is dependent upon us. Now let’s turn to one of the most significant teachings of Jesus.

BIBLE READING The Beatitudes read responsively

HOW LIBERATED ARE THOSE

A Paraphrase of the Beatitudes Matthew 5: 3-10

1. How liberated are those who have learnt to let go;
They shall experience the mystery of God.

2. How strong are those who are not afraid to admit their weaknesses;
Their tears shall heal their grief.

3. How beautiful are those who reverence life;
The Earth shall rejoice in their presence.

4. How satisfied are those who long to serve God;
For God shall be their delight.

5. How happy are those who are willing to forgive others;
They shall find release from guilt and fear.

6. How enlightened are those who know oneness with all things;
They shall see God everywhere.

7. How inspiring are those who work for justice and peace;
They shall live as children of God.

8. What an opportunity there is for those who suffer in the cause of right;
Their rejection can become a doorway to new life.
For music, see Boundless Life index on this website

2. A second contributing factor to the ecological crisis is DUALISM.  Dualism is where everything that really is one is divided into two opposites e.g. good and bad, up and down, beautiful and ugly, saints and sinners etc. As Meister Eckhart, the 14th century Christian mystic,  said “There is no twoness in God.” Dualism flourishes both in fundamentalism and also in liberalism with it’s politically correct thinking. We are now entering a stage in advanced thinking where the barriers are breaking down and a multiplicity of options are emerging. In the arts multi-media installations may include graphic art, music and dancing. In theology we are beginning to realize that the claim that one religion is right while the others are wrong can only lead to conflict and not to peace. It is one thing to say that Christianity is right for me quite another thing to claim that it is best for everyone.

HYMN: IN THE MAGIC LAND OF EITHER /OR

1. In the magic land of either/or
We are either right or we are wrong.
If we can’t create a compromise
We are either weak or we are strong.
This childhood land is a simple space
Where complex thought can never be found
It’s a world of ivory towers and clouds
Where all feet are six foot off the ground.

2. Our beliefs give deep security
Till we meet with all those other folk
Who believe their views are always right
And that ours are stupid or a joke.
We then retreat or go out to war
With weapons or with words for the fight
To establish what is really true
In the world of either black or white.

3. Once the goal to which we all aspired
Was a scientific certainty
But the unpredicted can occur
In the cosmic great diversity.
When faith relates to the cosmic laws
With methods Jesus often taught      * e.g.  Mark 4:26-29
All that is or was will hold as one
In the ways our longing spirits sought.

4. Past the realm of facts that we are taught
It’s a mystery past all thought and words,
Mystery found behind the sacred shroud.
With joy and wonderment we praise God
And humbly find that there is no wall
That divides all those of different faiths
Who with love adore the God of all.
*Our dependence upon nature
© William Livingstone Wallace

3. A third factor contributing to the ecological crisis is the lack of any overall Christian theology in the area of flesh and sexuality. If we don’t enjoy and reverence our own flesh how on earth are we to enjoy and reverence the flesh of the world. Certainly there are very few hymns on this topic but here is one which I wrote and which is on the website of the center for Progressive Christianity. But first let me read you a poem of mine.
 
Poem: THE ‘COMING OUT’ OF THE HETEROSEXUAL.
 
I look into the face of this woman and see a man.
I look into the face of this man and see a woman.
And what is more unsettling –
I look into my own heart and see both a woman and a man.
If only we could return to the simplicity
of two clearly delineated boxes
of male and female!
Then all we would have to do
would be to bury the pain
of our complexity
and deny the reality
of our feelings!
Thank God for new understandings
new liberation
new wholeness
that frees us from submissive
femininity
and overpowering
masculinity;
that acknowledges what has always been inside
earth and sky
egg and seed.
Now I am more than a man
I am myself
I am the entire human race
not just half of it
Now the two have become one.
Let’s now sing

HYMN: AS FLESH REVEALS A PATH
 
1. As flesh reveals a path to sacredness,
As body, mind and spirit merge as one,
As life is lived with interweaving links,
We dance the rhythmic pulse of moon and sun.

2. When body is our friend and not our foe,
When sex unfolds a world of rev’rent joy,
When senses act as agents of the heart,
We reconnect with childhood’s girl and boy.

3. The wholeness of this path of sacred touch
Involves imagination’s bonding fire,
The flames which melt our isolating walls
Till love becomes our consummate desire.

4. O God, the body of the universe,
The Spirit that enlivens matter’s ways,
The intellect that helps us walk the Path,
To you we raise our fleshly psalm of praise.
For music, see Boundless Life index on this website

Quotes.

1.THE IMPORTANCE OF TOUCH
According to both Biblical and psychological perspectives, the fundamental psychological need of human beings is to give and receive
acceptance, affirmation and tenderness, i.e. love. Without an appropriate sensory communication, which often involves the use of touch, it is almost impossible to convey the non-verbal realities which lie behind these words.

2.The ultimate love letter is not that which is crafted with pen and paper but the message conveyed by the sensuous entwining of two human bodies.
Instead of the churches making statements about the rights and wrongs of sexuality it would be better if it offered a list of questions that partners should address.

A LIST OF FACTORS TO BE CONSIDERED IN DECIDING WHETHER A SEXUAL ACTIVITY IN A PARTICULAR SITUATION IS COMPATIBLE WITH THE GOSPEL.

a) Is the activity an expression of God-given love? (1 Cor. 13/13)
b) Are both partners treated as equals; e.g. does each partner consent to the relationship being expressed in this manner? (Mark 12/ 13, Ephesians 5 / 33), 1 Cor. 7 / 4)
c) Does it undermine any other relationship or hurt any other human being? (Mark 10 /9 John 8 /11 Galatians 6 /2)
d) Should it be confined to a stable, trusting relationship?(Genesis 2 /24)
e) Does it have a detrimental effect on the wider human community; e.g. the transmission of known genetic abnormality? (Romans 14/13)
f) Is it medically safe; e.g. would it lead to the infection of one’s partner or oneself? (1 Cor. 6 /19)
Is it compatible with responsible Christian parenthood;
e.g. is it good family planning and does it take into account the needs of any children involved? (Ephesians 6 /4)
Is it part of a balanced rhythm of Christian living which enhances self-esteem and promotes mental health and personal development?
(Ephesians 5 / 28)
(i) Is it playful, life affirming fun instead of merely being a form of escapism or something which is regarded as a duty? (John 10 /10)
(j) Is it a joyful celebration of God? (Matt. 22/2 Song of Songs 2/4)
NB: Biblical and other mystical writers often use sexual images to describe union between the believer and God e.g. Rev. 21/2.

4.The fourth factor is the decline of the primary Christian myth of an other world of Heaven and Hell, angels and an intervening God which we will sing about in our departure hymn. Human beings live by myth and when one dies another rises to take it’s place. In the case of Western Society it is the myth of Free Market Capitalism, the belief that we can trust the market as an independent entity whose benefits will always trickle down to the poor and whose benefits will disappear if taken over by the state. This ideology is quite naive about how the economy is controlled by the super rich and that it is only through struggle that the poor are able to reach some sort of equity. The success of the economy according to this view depends upon competition and consumption to the limit and beyond of Earth’s finite resources.

So we have a society which resembles the last stages of the Roman Empire a society where food, drink, super housing and the desire to become a millionaire are dominant. This ideology has within it the seeds of it’s own destruction. Let’s pray that this will happen before the Earth is destroyed. What is needed is a form of Communalism that apart from the early apostolic life has rarely been tried

5.The last factor is an enormous decline in the sense of mystery in many churches and in the Western World as a whole. What we don’t reverence we often feel quite free to destroy and that includes the Earth itself. But what is mystery? It is the virtually undefinable experience of feeling so at one with some thing, some other living creature or human being, or ultimately with God that the two separate entities seem to be one. This boundary dissolving experience is not confined to the area of religion but the supreme examples may be classified as spiritual experiences. Mysticism is about encounter with God, mystery etc. The form of mysticism with which I am most familiar is that of letting go and allowing oneself to be immersed in God. For me it is succinctly expressed in my hymn “IN THE LETTING GO”.

IN THE LETTING GO 

1.In the letting go we find life:
For deeper than the striving is the flowing,
Deeper than the searching is the knowing
And deeper than the grieving is the mystery
In which darkness and light are one.

2.Through the letting go we find life:
For greater than the owning is the sharing,
Greater than competing is belonging
And greater than our species is the Cosmos
In which all of the parts are one.
For music, see Boundless Life index on this website

In a hymn I wrote last week I have a verse that says
“Through entering the silence
We learn the ways to find
Our breathing has a rhythm
That goes with emptied mind.
At times we will discover
That boundaries can dissolve,
A oneness experience
That helps wholeness evolve.”

Here is a poem of mine that says something similar

GOD’S EMBRACE

GOD’S EMBRACE
In the darkness we see no shapes
And are freed from their limitation.
In the silence we hear no sounds
And are liberated from their patterns.
In the stillness we feel no motion
And can dwell in the Sabbath of resting.
In the mystery we become part of everything
Without the constraints of sight, sound or motion
And in that mystery we experience God’s embrace

THE MISUSE OF MYSTICISM

Mysticism becomes destructive when it leads to a total flight into the unitive reality in order to avoid the apparently divided reality in which we all live. The mystic and the activist are two sides of our personality. Without a healthy rhythm between the two we either burn out or relegate ourselves to an other worldly irrelevance which attempts to deny the reality of matter and the beauty of the impermanent forms which surround us. Part of the mystical awareness of interconnection is discernment of the manipulative techniques which the rich and powerful use in order to control the rest of the human race. If a person abandons their mysticism the awareness they have gained can be used for personal gain and for the oppression of others.

HYMN: IF I EMBRACE THE GOD WITHIN

1. If I embrace the God within,
Core of my Spirit’s sacred home,
I find a source of tender love
Which I delight to own.

2. When I am still I’m not alone,
Both past and present form one stream
Of creatures, water and the rocks,
A flowing cosmic scheme.

3. The oneness of my inner core
Flows past all time and all of space,
A wonder moving silently
Towards the sphere of grace.

4. When I address the inner one
I do not ask a god to act
But seek advice on what to do
And weigh each proven fact.

5. O God who dwells within my heart
May I now hear your tender voice
Which draws me on in mystery’s way
To follow and rejoice.
Text and music © William Livingstone Wallace
 
PRAYER / MEDITATION RESPONSES

1. In silence now we join to pray
Listening to the God within

2. May rich discernment shape our prayers

As we learn from cosmic laws.

3. As love’s compassion grows within
We shall heed the people’s cries.

4. With all the poor we join to pray
May Earth’s wealth be shared by all.

5. Empowered by justice, filled with hope
We shall join with Earth’s oppressed.

6. Aware how humans wound this Earth
We resolve to save its life.


7. In meeting pilgrims’ varied ways
We find truth takes many forms.

8. When faced with life’s diversity
We view mystery as but one.

9. Through praying we transform our mind
Till all of life becomes a prayer.
For music, see index to Boundless Life, under the heading Prayer/Meditation Responses

PARAPHARASE OF THE LORD’S PRAYER

O most compassionate life-giver,
may we honour and praise you;
May we work with you to establish
your new order of justice, peace and love.
Give us what we need for growth,
and help us, through forgiving others,
to accept forgiveness.
Strengthen us in the time of testing,
that we may resist all evil,
for all the tenderness, strength and love
are yours, now and forever.
Amen

© William Livingstone Wallace

OFFERTORY HYMN

AS WE GIVE WE SHALL RECEIVE

1. As we give we shall receive,
We shall reap what we now sow.
Our words shall nurture what thoughts conceive,
Spreading joy or spreading woe.

2. All our cells respond to thought;
When we hate our health shall ebb.
Our word shall travel, relaxed or fraught,
To nurture or harm life’s web.

3. Learn to prize and not to scorn
All the laws of nature’s ways.
As birds announce the emerging dawn,
We awake for love and praise.
© World Library Publications, Singing the Sacred, vol. 1, William L Wallace

Dedication of offering

Closing BLESSING
The Earth itself is a blessing,
And we are part of Earth.
Let us rejoice in our life
and share it as a blessing with other people,
with the eco-system and the Cosmos.
For in giving blessing, we receive blessing
and in that blessing we will rest.

All:  ALLELUIA! ALLELUIA! ALLELUIA! ALLELUIA! AMEN
©William L Wallace;  For music see index to Boundless Life on this website

DEPARTURE HYMN

WHEN ANGEL WINGS HAVE FLOWN AWAY
Tunes: JERUSALEM

ANGEL WINGS
Melody: William L. Wallace;
Harmony: Wallace Woodley

1. When angel wings have flown away,
When fires of Hell have long since died,
When God no longer intervenes
And worship change is seldom tried,
Are we now faced with Godless hearts
Who live in their own Babel Tower
Where G.N.P. now seems to rule
And human greed grows hour by hour?

2. When images fragment and tear
Can pieces form a whole again?
Yes mystery can, enfolding Earth,
Announce that Cosmic ways shall reign.
Each pilgrim now needs to explore
The depths of every human heart,
Find Heaven that is everywhere,
A wonder that does not depart.

3. Old images we held of God
We’re limited to either/or.
The Cosmic God can now reveal
New ways to find the mystery’s door.
These all involve expanding thought,
Embracing all the options’ range,
As boundless mystery now is found
In usual ways and in the strange.

4. This complex God can now provide
New ways to join the parts as one,
Fresh ways to see that God still acts
Through genes and atoms, Moon and Sun.
Words will no longer just suffice
To help us search for what is wise
Instead we find what dwells within
Gives voice to timeless love’s surprise!

5. The dialogue with God remains
As inwardness and not out there;
The Thou now dwells down deep inside,
The Cosmos now becomes our seer.
We still have need for strong belief
But boundaries can now expand
Embracing all that was and is
Throughout the sea and all the land

6. Empowering God of all the new,
Your process now embraces all,
In silence we can hear your voice,
The challenge to accept your call.
When brokenness surrounds our life,
When futures seem all filled with woe
An inward turn to meet your grace,
Can gift the love each heart can know.

Review & Commentary