Keith examines his usual wide gambit of ideas but reminds usthat the objective is to expand that need for localized neighbourliness to a much wider horizon.
Climate change is on all our minds much of the time. If we are not looking at its effects out of our windows, we cannot avoid the perpetual exposure on radio and TV to discussions and arguments about it. Recent weeks have seen glorious spring weather with our early flowers opening up earlier than ever before. But we have also seen violent storms and desperate winds. It is not obvious why we should complain about this. We have brought about a society which has accelerated and accelerated the rate of change in economic and social matters. It is only a few years ago that I read the extraordinary statistic that 50% of all the human beings ever born were still alive - I have no idea how that statistic may have changed - but think of it - half of all the men and women ever born on this earth to still be alive at the same time. It is almost impossible to comprehend that statistic (I use that word rather than 'fact', not because it is not true, which I have no reason to doubt, but because it is not an observed phenomenon but an implied and calculated one.)
A related statistic was that over 90% of all the scientists ever born were still alive! It is clear that we are having to change our planet very rapidly in order to cope with this massive inundation of people. The science that has enabled this growth to take place is also the science that is enabling us to cope with it. These massive changes to our influence on and our demands of the Earth must necessarily be expected to produce some reaction from the Earth. So rapid climate change should not really be a shock or surprise. What is more important is what we do with this overcrowded earth having got here. It is, of course, possible to be awfully apocalyptic about it and some of us are. We see the end times approaching. We see great sin in the changes which we, as mankind, have wrought. We see the need for punishment. It has all been a great fall from grace.
But that is not a very faithful way of looking around. Whether your faith is in a loving God or in the flexibility and cleverness of humankind, there is every reason to be optimistic. If you have no faith in anything, that is, of course, awful. If you know anyone in that desperate state then you must try to help them to see light, to understand that a tunnel of darkness is just that and that a tunnel by definition is a limited space, surrounded by non-tunnel; that darkness is defined by the light which it is excluding and that is trying to get in; and that each of us has the key to the locked door and can let in the light. It is actually a denial of your human spirit to give in to desperation. At particular times we are all tempted towards such desperation, but most of us can resist it most of the time - some unfortunates fall through a threshold beyond which it becomes, or seems to become, impossible to return. They can only be recalled by their friends and neighbours. So we are all called not just to be faithful and hopeful for ourselves but for all those with whom we have any sort of relationship.
That is a very wide statement. We have relationships (even if it is one of ignoring) with strangers that we pass or who live two doors down from us or are ahead of us in the supermarket queue. The face of the lonely elderly widow will light up when she sees children laughing and playing. They may be afraid and defensive, but we can all, if we wish, approach and help those who are not as happy as we are. If we are not good at one thing we are probably good at another. The socially inept who can't strike up easy conversations with strangers can support relevant charities or join clubs where it is easier to make contacts.
This is all rather 'preachy'. But the objective is to expand that need for localized neighbourliness to a much wider horizon. We are becoming aware of the 'China effect'. We have been buying goods very cheaply (from our standpoint) from China for decades now. In the process we have been pumping relative wealth into China and teaching them about our concepts of spending. The new wealth in China is now being spent on buying the basics of what we regard as the good life - strawberries at any time of year, gas-guzzling 4x4s, unlimited power supplies for all our knick-knacks as well as for central heating and endless hot bathwater. Why are we all surprised that this has upset the delicate balance of the supply of and demand for these products? So our prices (ie costs) are rising and we are beginning to feel uncomfortable. These changes are global changes. So are the climate changes. We are very uncomfortable with the storms and floods of recent years, but really rather pleased with the early springs and the longer, hotter summers, but these are part of a global pattern of change. Some of these changes are already verging on being catastrophic for some people(s).
Bangladesh is suffering earlier, longer and massively more powerful monsoons, that is totally changing their ability to even live in the land they have occupied for centuries. When over cropping of large areas of the southern USA led to the dustbowls of the nineteen twenties, many, many farmers were ruined and had to flee the land to find work and sustenance for their families far from the homes they had been brought up in. There was enormous misery, but relatively easily absorbed by the USA over the next generation. But what about the Bangladeshis - here we are talking about a whole nation of potential refugees?
In the post war years, there was much discussion and optimism about gradually pushing the tropical African forest and grasslands further north into the Sahel areas and pushing the Sahel north into the Sahara and cutting into the desert. The reality now is that the Sahara is growing and squeezing the economies of the impoverished states to its south.
These peoples are the strangers and neighbours to whom we have to find more ways of reaching out - to whom we have to bring, not just practical aid and assistance, but also hope - faith that the human race is doing well and that they are part of that process.
We may see some deserts expanding, but others are receding. As the ice shrinks northwards, the tundra in the north of Canada and of Russia is also shrinking northwards. New land is there, although no one seems to be showing much enthusiasm yet for occupying it. I don't know what other new oases there may be in the world. As we lose islands under the waves in the Pacific are we gaining new islands of land from the ice in Antarctica? I don't know - I just speculate quietly to myself about these things. I remain, however, totally faithful to my God, in the knowledge that he is totally faithful to me. Things won't get better just like that. But they will get better if I believe they will AND if I make the personal commitment to make sure they do. It is against the failure of nerve that we have to defend ourselves. When Jesus opened his arms to Peter and told him to walk over to him, Peter stood up, climbed out of the boat and walked across the water towards Jesus. He suddenly realized what he was doing, looked down and started to sink. While his faith was strong he could do it, when his faith failed him, he failed.
We should not, then, be too self-critical, if we can't hold it all together all the time - after all Jesus did call on that same Peter to be the first head of his Church. But when we do lose faith, then, like Peter, we need to find it again and move forward, preaching faith and helping others who need us, whether we like them or not.
Licensed Lay Minister