Friday, May 24, 2019

Graciously Green part 2... the simplified version

Graciously Green (simplified… some practices!)         R is a magic letter!

You've heard of learning the 3 R's.... Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic. Well a lot that we have learnt about going green can be learnt from learning some different R's!

1.       Rejoice: In all that God has given us.
2.       Repent : That we have not been content, and have consumed more than we need.
3.       Re-evaluate our lifestyles.. Using 7 more R's!
a. Reduce
c. Rent (Share)
d.Repair (refrain from buying new)
e.Re-train our diets...
f.  Recreate   (offset carbon)
g. Recycle as a last resort

You already are aware of the Plastics group we have formed in partnership with Village Action and the Parish Council. We are also hoping to start up a ‘Repair Café’ and also enter Zion for the Eco Church awards. (I’m hoping we may get close to a silver award!) If you’d like to be a part of any of these initiatives, please speak to Stephen or contact the office.

Graciously Green

Graciously Green (the thinking!)

I am aware that at times I am a bit of a bull in a china shop. I don't mean to be, and I certainly don't mean to hurt or demean others. The problem is I am passionate. It is the very thing that drives me forward.

One passion that I have felt for as many years as I can remember is a passion to see us care for God's creation more carefully. When we built the beacon, I harboured the dream that we could become a 'Carbon Neutral church.'

I don't think anyone can have watched David Attenborough's recent films and documentaries without feeling appalled at the damage we are doing to God's world. Some might argue that we've always lived off the resources in God's world, and that is of course true. The problem is that we are now doing so in 'industrial' proportions, without corresponding 'industrial' levels of care going into the consequences of our actions. Also rubbish in the past decomposed, plastic doesn’t! The question that I wish to pose over the next few months, especially during our Church Weekend away at Hill House (28-30th June) is whether there is a reasonable even a 'gracious' Christian response?

One of the reasons that I have a passion for this subject is that whilst I was training to be a minister I was privileged to have regular tutorials with the Revd. Dr Arthur Peacocke MBE. He was one of those brain the size of a planet people, he had at least 3 doctorates, in science and theology, and yet he could still sum things up rather simply. I always remember him commenting as the ecological movement was developing in the late 1980's that we as Christians should be far more passionate than others because we believe that creation is a gift that God has given to us all. In effect he would say, how dare we neglect the planet, it isn't ours to neglect, it's a precious gift to be cherished. He was a bright cookie, and was rightly made the President of the Science and Religion Forum from 1995 until his death.

So I'm passionate, but I get that passions put some people of, so I get that we need to be gracious! However the problem with this issue is that it is also a matter of justice. The people that suffer from our wilful neglect and woeful response to the issue of climate change, and indeed plastic pollution, are not the rich and powerful. As always it is the weak and vulnerable who suffer. (This isn't even to mention the devastation that we are inflicting on animal species and the biodiversity of nature itself.) In light of this a Christian response can never be to simply walk by on the other side of the road, and pretend it isn't happening, we are called to 'get of our donkey' and see what we can do.

This of course is where it gets tricky. What can we do? The very nature of society embeds us within its tangled worldview and practices so that we imagine ourselves only as powerless consumers. In effect although we know that stuff is happening, we feel unable to change things. This is of course false. As we've seen from the recent actions by Greta Thunberg and the extinction rebellion movement, we can create movements which makes the powers that be sit up and listen. Small actions change cultures, whether that is in a family, or in our workplaces, or as a whole society. As consumers we can act in ways which make change more likely. I think of the way Tradecraft has effectively helped the whole marketplace to understand its responsibilities to workers and the environment.  We can see increasingly ethical opportunities opening up, which if we choose to follow them will undermine other less enhancing models of working. Of course truly radical change often does require governments to legislate or intervene. But governments respond ultimately to the pressure that we place upon them. If we do nothing, so will they!

So what can you do? Well this is where Mel's now regular articles about plastics have been heading. A plethora of little shifts that we can make. We all make decisions every day, with better information many of us would make different decisions. I'm also aware that joy is a far better motivator than guilt. When we begin to teach on this area our starting place will be to Rejoice. Worship and awe are the richest motivators. The first thing we must do is open our eyes, ears, noses and taste buds, to see and taste the goodness which surrounds us. Only after that place of wonder will we advocate the great Christian discipline of repentance: an acknowledgement that we have missed the mark, and also that we want to take steps to rediscover ways to live in harmony once again. Rejoicing in beauty motivates us. Repentance isn't then about feeling guilty, it is the active acknowledgment that we need to change our ways.

After rejoicing and repentance comes the realisation that new responsible pathways need to be discovered.  We will explore many possible personal responses, I hope offered graciously not as a bull amidst your fragile china! As a whole church I hope we can also make some decisions. Maybe even to consider that we might realise my dream of 'carbon neutrality.' Since we installed solar panels several years ago, some of our energy is already carbon free, but by no means all of it. We have sought to reduce with better insulation, and more complex timers to avoid unnecessary heating. Another step we could take is to consider carbon offsetting. That is to invest some money to 'neutralise' our lifestyles. At its most basic carbon offsetting is about planting trees, but a Christian charity like 'Climate Stewards' also offer us opportunities to invest in other carbon reducing projects. One that I like the sound of is a 'cookstove' project. For the poorest families cooking with firewood is a laborious and often dirty occupation. A new stove will halve the amount of fuel needed, less time wasted collecting fuel and less carbon produced. It also radically changes an unhealthy living environment. A win on so many fronts, a simple but effective intervention. I'm hoping to do some maths and challenge Zion as an organisation to go carbon neutral at least for a year by buying new cooking stoves for Ghana, it'll probably cost less than you might think...I will try to present the idea graciously! I do hope that as a church we will consider this as one of the steps God is leading us to make. I also hope and pray we will all learn to rejoice in creation more alongside a repentance that leads to an active search for those truly holy and fulfilling lives that God has prepared for us.
Your brother in Christ

Thursday, March 21, 2019

The truth can set you free

I like Easter. It makes us think of new life, and new possibilities and fresh starts. It’s like a hyper charged ‘Spring’ if you like! It is also a very big deal. Either one of the greatest deceptions in history, or something truly awesome almost terrifying has taken place. Death has been reversed, and is no longer the ‘final say.’ This ‘resurrection’ debate is almost entirely a matter of faith, what is possible and what in this world bears the stamp of meaning.

I hope that as we celebrate the season of Easter you will be able to ponder the extra-ordinary meaning of it all. Sharing a quiet communion on Maundy Thursday or a People’s Passion on Good Friday, will I trust deepen our ability to wonder and marvel at God’s love for us all, which I for one, believe lies behind it all.

Alongside Easter there are quite a few other matters that are ‘quite big deals.’ The B word and the C word. (Brexit and Climate Change.) I have been struck just how polarised our responses to these areas have become, and I am uncomfortable. It seems that we are almost into Resurrection type debates. It all depends on what you believe to be true. Jesus (the man, or maybe the one who rose from the dead…you choose!) is recorded as having said, ‘then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.’ But what is the truth?  Are we really making the atmosphere warmer, is this really going to be a disaster? My answer to both of those questions is a big yes, but if yours is no, then we are going to argue as if we are discussing alternative realities.

On Brexit our understandings of what are the important points in the debate mean that most of what passes for debate is actually a dialogue of the deaf. These realities saddens me as I think both issues are important not simply personally but also for our neighbours near and far around the world, and down our street. Yet as we become more and more polarised, we seem to live in a world where alternative ‘truths’ seem to co-exist. It is tricky because the ‘Pastor’ in my heart says, compromise, and yet, using the example of my belief in the resurrection, the ‘Preacher’ in me knows you can’t really compromise. It’s either true or it isn’t.  I realise with Brexit for instance discovering what is true is difficult, some argue that it is all about how well off we will be whether in or out of the EU. For others the issue is not wealth but freedom, and national self-determination. I think all I can add to this debate is the insight that unless we understand what is motivating the ‘other’ person, we will get nowhere in our understanding. These different motivations result in different ‘truths.’  Ultimately someone or some group (Parliament or People) will have to decide which motivation must be honoured and taken forward.

Right that’s BREXIT sorted…. As IFFF!!!!! Climate change on the other hand is different. Or at least it is different to me. Because I believe the motivations that lie behind us denying climate change or indeed choosing, as most of us do, to do too little about it, are ‘unworthy’ motivations. (I realise I am making a value judgement here: PS we all do this most of the time!! J) Our motivation against acting, is often that it’s too hard, and will make us have to give up some of our lifestyle comforts. The motivation behind denial, is in my view, almost entirely economic: our vested interests will be compromised so we must deny this ‘scientific’ truth and thus excuse ourselves from acting accordingly. There are times when such motivations may be acceptable, when the consequences for us or for others may be described as moderate. However when the consequences run as deep as they seem to do in the Climate Change debate, then surely it is time to wake up. I think as Christians we simply need to wake up to the TRUTH, it is happening. And while you may expect that I, a man of ‘faith’ may argue: ‘Oh well God will sort it.’ I’m not so sure. In my reading of both history and the Bible God very rarely stops the consequences of our foolishness. On the positive side, I do believe that when we face up to our foolishness, and are honest, God does seem to strengthen us to make the changes we need to make. Climate Change is serious, it’s something that all of us should be concerned about, and willing to make fairly radical changes to our lifestyle about. For instance going veggie for 4 days a week, will probably save about .6 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year! I’m hoping this year that as a church community we can begin to learn from some of the people and groups that have begun to make these changes.

So yes I believe as Jesus said, the truth can set us free. But only if we accept the truth and act on it.  
Happy Easter, happy spring, happy Brexit day. (I suspect it won’t have happened yet.) But also let us be resolved to make each day a ‘Happy World day,’ as we choose to face the truth that our lifestyles are unsustainable and so resolve to do something about it.

Stephen Newell

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The Year of living Sustainably

Welcome to our first 2019 edition of Zion News. I would like to make an announcement; that is that 2019 will be a year when we focus upon the beauty of Creation. However this is not to be simply a naval gazing, or indeed a sunrise or hillside gazing exercise we hope that together we will grasp afresh God's commission for us to 'Care for the Creation.'

The world that we live in is indeed deeply beautiful, this morning when I awoke and pulled back the curtains I was faced with the lingering splendour of a nearly full moon. Just days ago people around the world marvelled at a lunar eclipse which created a 'Super Blood Wolf Moon.' It happened at 3.30am UK time, so many of us caught the effects only via newsreel, but it struck me just how glorious and mysterious the world in which we live really is.

However alongside the beauty and awe of our delicate, glorious world, we are also more and more aware of the impact that our unfettered lifestyle is having. Last year the BBC program 'Drowning in Plastic' served as a wake up call for many. Even within the trailer the presenter when faced with a river totally rubbished in plastic announced, 'My God, just look at it.' Sadly God does look at it, just as Whales and sea birds have to swim in it and Turtles seem prone to digest it. Eve in the Mythical garden of Eden was faced with the dilemma of whether to consume the apple, now we must ask do our lifestyles really demand that we need to  consume plastic in such vast quantities.

Of course plastics are just one symptom of humanities ability to degrade the gift of life that we have been given. The problems are immense. However I believe an awakened church can support an awakening world. Jesus said his followers were to be 'The light of the world.' (LED lights of course!) Our hope during the course of the year is to encourage each one of us to consider what steps we are called to take, to move the balance of our earthly footprint away from degradation and back towards cherishing sustainability. I also hope that we may be able to build some partnerships with others towards a common cause of sustainability.  (Ideas are already beginning to bubble including a Repair Café, Waste Partnership or even a one of 2nd hand book fair, but I'm sure God can guide our imagination and our partnerships.)

So how may you get involved. Well of course we are all already involved. Our lifestyle determines how much we consume and whether we try to reduce this or reuse and share things. Are we serious about recycling or making sustainable decisions around transport? As a whole church we will focus on Care for Creation particularly in the summer, around our Church Weekend away at Hill House.  We want to make this whole weekend adventure as close to Carbon Neutral as we possibly can, so we're already planning a coach to transport us alongside inspiring teaching and activities. It is my prayer that each of us will individually decide to modify at least one aspect of our lifestyle, as well as that we become a church which takes this issue as seriously as we have taken Fair Trade and whole life discipleship in the past. They are after all, all connected.

In our magazine Eric has written a review of Ruth Valerio's book, 'Just Living.' Her teaching may well help to guide us. We will also highlight this theme in our daily prayer guide. So please pray with me that God will guide us and help us to address this urgent demand upon our discipleship that we cherish this beautiful world he has gifted to us. May we be good stewards in order that all life may flourish. On which note I am delighted to also announce that on 15th and 16th June we will host a Flower Show: beautiful!

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Practicing Gratitude

              It was the entertainer Ken Dodd, he of the ‘Diddy Men’ who made popular a song written by Bill Anderson: ‘Happiness, happiness, the greatest gift that I possess
I thank the Lord I've been blessed with more than my share of happiness.’
Happiness is a wonderful thing, if we’ve been granted that gift, but what if we haven’t, can happiness be cultivated?
          I read an article today by Moya Sarner, a self-confessed atheist and cynic. The title was ‘Is gratitude the secret of happiness.’ This lady basically spent a month trying to reflect on the things in her life that she was grateful for. Initially she found it very hard, she was sceptical as to whether it was even a good thing, let alone whether it was the panacea that could help countless thousands that some lifestyle gurus are suggesting. She writes, ‘Even hearing the word “gratitude” makes my shoulders tense and my eyes narrow. I am too cynical to get on board this particular Oprah bandwagon-too British, too atheist, too sensitive to schmaltz.’
However despite this initial ‘reticence’ she started practicing, making time each day to record the things in her life that she was grateful for. I found her conclusions fascinating. She acknowledges that there are pitfalls to an approach which says that in all situations the key to happiness is gratitude. After all in some situations it is harder to be grateful than others. Some people have never learnt gratitude because as children they have never received love. Simply telling people to be grateful could actually add guilt to go alongside whatever real life struggle they were already facing. However the core of her conclusion for herself, was that even for a British, cynical, schmaltz averse atheist, this practice was really powerful and really beneficial. As she learnt to reflect and think about the things in her day for which she was grateful, she soon noticed that she simply ‘felt’ better.
So why do I bring this to your attention in this Thought for the Month! Well I couldn’t help noticing that Moya Sarner felt that in a discussion of gratitude it was necessary to include that she was an atheist. (In all other areas, cynical, British, Oprah averse and deeply suspicious of schmaltz, she and I are at one!) Implicitly she acknowledged that ‘Thanksgiving’ has been part of many religious practices, reflecting each day or season on those things that have been good. I have just had the privilege of sharing in our annual ‘Harvest Thanksgiving.’ I gave each person the opportunity to add to a ‘Thankfultree’ their leaf of gratitude, a place to record ‘before God’ the things for which they were thankful. It was a great moment, such a variety of thoughts and observations, such a ‘wealth’ of things to be thankful for; encompassing, food, family, shelter, love, laughter, beauty… the lists could go on and on.
Whether you share my faith or not, I believe that learning and practicing ‘thankfulness’ is actually a very spiritual thing. As if to confirm this I recently awoke from sleep, and in that half-light between waking and sleeping I felt myself, ‘giving thanks’ in a way I’d never done before. It was as if I was part of a river of thanksgiving that was pouring out through my heart, it just seemed to go on and on. It was both strange and yet deeply wonderful.
One comment in the above article amused me somewhat. The question was asked why was gratitude a good thing, and how did it develop? Apparently the economist and philosopher Adam Smith had a theory that gratitude has an evolutionary purpose. He argued that society only really works ‘if we repay the aid we get from other people, but since we have no legal or financial incentive to do so, we have evolved a sense of gratitude that makes us do it.’ I totally recognise this concept but to me it is nonsense to suggest this is genuine gratitude. I had the privilege of living in a Chinese culture in Taiwan when I was younger. Within that culture there was a massively powerful sense of this powerful force. It went by the name of ‘Gwanshi.’ Rather than gratitude I would describe this as ‘obligation.’ If something happened and it was fine you were left with no ‘obligation’ the phrase used was ‘Meyo Gwanshi’ (no obligations.) (Apologies if I have misspelled these Chinese words.) This was a really common phrase… akin to our phrase of OK, or OK there are no strings attached.
In my view contrary to any obligations Jesus nailed what really creates gratitude and indeed where it ultimately comes from! He advocated an attitude towards giving which expects nothing in return: ‘If you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that…. If you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that ……do good to your ‘enemies’ and expect nothing back…..then you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.’ (Lk 6)
There is so much in life that we have neither earnt nor really deserve, a beautiful sunset is one example, someone forgiving us when we’ve messed up is another, my wife bringing me tea in the morning another. Gratitude is simply a ‘natural’ response, and something most of us would discover is actually really good for us as well, beautiful.
Stephen Newell (British Cynic but learning to be deeply grateful.)

Friday, September 14, 2018

Not religious but REAL

       I’m not sure if you’ve noticed but the Bible starts with a picture of a garden, but then ends with a vision of a city. Now even though I am or was a city boy, having just moved my daughter into a tower block in a city, I have some reservations, is it really a city that best represents the place where we will all live in harmony, God’s kingdom finally established?

          One thing that does now make the city image a whole lot more vibrant and appealing to me is that the city is the location of a cosmic marriage, Christ is the bridegroom and we are the bride. As I’m sure many of you are aware I have just had the utter privilege of facilitating and conducting a wedding, for my son. We prayed and prayed for a sunny day, even though I did point out that other things like world peace, and healing were probably more important. The weather was rubbish, as the beautiful bride arrived the heavens simply opened, and yet she still looked transcendent.

          However, the weather notwithstanding the day was simply glorious. To watch two people who clearly love each other was beautiful and then to witness their families and friends ensure that we have a great party whatever the weather, was exhilarating. Prior to this day I was pretty sure that the best days of my life were my own wedding day and also the birthdays of our three children. I now have a new day, a new contender, as I watched my son simply absolutely in love, and along with family and friends have such a great day.

        So why was this day so special? Well it was a day of Covenant, a day of celebrating love being promised, given and received. It was also a day for a family banquet. A day when a very ordinary village hall in deepest West Wales was transformed, by flowers, decorations and of course by lots of people. Ultimately it was one really great party, and once Matt’s choice of live music got rocking, the whole place was dancing. Even 91 year old Grandpa’s on their walkers…as the picture I hope illustrates! I must admit when I’m dancing I often have a simple feeling of joy, as if somehow I was made to dance. Those watching my awkward flapping are forgiven that they may not have the same impression. But with water turned into wine, great music and absolute love for those around us, dancing is a deeply beautiful joyous thing.

        Actually when you think about all these reasons why a wedding is so special you can see that these are all totally biblical images about our relationship with God. A God of complete covenant who longs to welcome us into his family. A God whose love transforms rainy days and sunny days, with flowers and acts of grace. A God who says that if we come to him there will be a party in heaven, all ending with a marriage here in a restored earth. A God who invites us all to a banquet where there is enough for everyone to share. A God who puts music and dancing into our hearts. There is no greater truth than to know that, ‘The joy of the Lord is our strength.’ For me Jesus’ first miracle makes so much more sense now, transforming stone water jars for ceremonial cleansing, into the wine of abundance flowing freely and clear. I began the day asking myself why on earth I bought so much alcohol. Then as the day progressed I began to panic that there wasn't enough. Finally there was the satisfaction of person after person simply wanting to tell me how happy they were and how much they'd enjoyed this Wild Wet West Wales version of a Wedding, whilst enjoying a drink and savouring a Pizza. If I'd have been given a £1 for every time someone said ‘I'm not religious, has been absolutely wonderful,’ then maybe I could afford to throw a party every week! (Over indulgence every week, is clearly not a good idea!)

       You see the travesty of this, ‘I’m not religious’ comment, is that we've allowed the world to believe that Jesus's friends are actually the friends of Pharisees not the friends of 'tax collectors' and 'sinners.’ Jesus was attacked as a friend of gluttons, even though he did point out that it was the sick who needed a doctor! And yet we have made our following of him into a seemingly moral crusade, stripped of joy and love. We’ve allowed ourselves to get caught up in protecting some fake standard of morality where we choose who is invited to the feast, and we keep the riff raff out. We were called to be lovers, lovers of God for his abundant goodness and grace and lovers of all those he places around us. After all the one who allows us to have a beautiful Wild Wet West Wales Wedding, is also the exact same God, who freely gave his life so that riff raff like you and me could discover the joy of being loved like a bride and dancing like a Gangly Grooms father and Grandfather!

       I pray that there may be days for you of sheer joy either to look back to, or look forward to. And I pray as well that you may sense the deep joy that God has for you here and now. After all his love for you flows so deep that he’s planning on transforming a city to make it a place filled with a bride fit to welcome home her lover.


Thursday, July 12, 2018

Football didn't come home

Frome Valley Voice Article Aug 2018 Well Football didn’t come home, our Andy didn’t win, or indeed even participate in Wimbledon, and surely by the time you read this in August, our incredible heat wave will have come to an end. Nothing lasts forever. Even the best things come to an end. The good news is that so do all bad things as well. There are two possible responses to this reality, one is to bemoan how everything is changing, the other is to decide to live and make the best we can of each moment and day. I am now officially a grumpy old man, I was only two when England last won a world cup semi-final, and I seem to be naturally improving at the bemoaning option! But this really doesn’t help me, and frankly is a pain to live with. So with help I try to find a way to make the best of each day. The trouble is this is easier said than done, especially when our hopes or dreams have been shattered. So how can we change our mind-set, and improve our attitudes. Here I have some advice. The first is, get a dog! I am only slightly joking. Wandering home after Croatia pipped us to the post in a semi-final, suddenly became more bearable, when my dog looked at me with her tilted head saying, ‘you’ve left me in, all on my own, while you were out enjoying yourself, will you play with me now?’ ‘Please!!’ Even at my grumpiest, I can’t resist a dog! Another thought that helps is to have in mind each day the things that are really important and treasure them. I realise this is in danger of becoming a circular argument. For if the things you treasure are the very things that you have lost, like the hope of England ever winning a world cup, ever! Then you are in trouble. Here perspective is required. I barely dare say this, but football is, ‘only a game.’ A great game, I’ll grant you, but nevertheless, a game. Here is my great sadness, for I fear that for some of us, we treasure nothing more than our tribe, our team winning. Or else we treasure something else, of really limited meaning or worth. I think this is related to what the Bible talks of as Idolatry. Making something your treasure that ultimately has very limited value. So if you can’t get a dog, then my advice is look deep and find something in your heart that you really treasure, something that is valuable and gives deep meaning. For many people this treasure is their relationships or friends. But I know people who become champions, passionately engaged in all manner of worthy pursuits. Find something that fulfils you and work a little towards it each day. For me this treasure is Jesus. I realise to some this sounds strange, but Jesus is not really a religious conviction, more a personal friend and guide. When I’m feeling grumpy, I can meet him in my heart and catch a whiff of his love for others. He expands my heart whenever I notice him in the beauty of creation that surrounds us, from the tiniest flower to the entire sky mottled in an evening sunset. But most of all I treasure Jesus when I encounter him in the people I meet, both Christians and non-Christians, whenever they display a richness of generosity, love or just simple fun. On a gloomy day when I’m feeling grumpy (so for me that is most mornings!) I need to look for my treasure. Once the dog has licked me or chewed my sandals, I need to open my eyes and find the richest thing that I can imagine and invest my heart into that treasure. As Jesus said, ‘for where your heart is, there your treasure will be.’ So football didn’t come home. But I came home and found peace in my dog and my God! Stephen Newell