Thinking Anew – A world we all must share
“The threat to the environment is a global problem and it can only be put right by individuals embracing value systems that look beyond self and who are willing to accept changes to lifestyle that will make things better”
Eartha Kitt, one of America’s highly talented 20th-century performers, is best remembered for her distinctive singing style.
One of her recordings is about a young woman’s ambition to marry “an old-fashioned millionaire” who would provide for all her wants. She likes “Chopin and Bizet/ And the songs of yesterday, / String quartets and Polynesian carols. / But the music that excels/ is the sound of oil wells/ as they slurp, slurp, slurp into the barrels.”
While the woman in the song tips her hat to culture, her priority is money, the subject of tomorrow’s epistle reading. It does not condemn wealth but warns against allowing the love of money to control our lives: ‘‘But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil . . .”
Use of wealth
In 1956, when Eartha Kitt was dreaming about “the sound of oil wells/ as they slurp, slurp, slurp into the barrels”, there wasn’t much concern for the environment or any widespread awareness of the damage being done by the oil industry. Indeed, at that time people were far more concerned about the interruption of oil supplies caused by the Suez crisis.
For many years, however, the churches, supported by science, have been encouraging us to take better care of the world and its precious resources. Thirty years ago the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew suggested that the first day of the Orthodox Church’s year should be observed as a day “of protection of the natural environment”.
Ten years later the European Christian Environmental Network embraced the idea and agreed that it should be known as Creation Time and run from September 1st to October 4th, the feast of St Francis.
Eco-Congregation Ireland, an ecumenical organisation representing the main churches in Ireland, each year encourages Christians to see “Creation Time [as] an opportunity for Christians of all traditions to reflect on the wonder and mystery of God’s Creation and to choose better ways to relate to the living earth, ways that reflect God’s ways of justice and peace”. Their resource material is excellent.
The recent commitment by China and the US to sign the Paris agreement on climate change is a positive sign but experts say it is too little too late. Former bishop of Oxford John Pritchard in God Lost and Found suggests that our reluctance to face up to such problems has spiritual consequences: “The danger is that as a global community we may not be prepared to learn the lessons. The stuttering progress made at Kyoto, Bali and Copenhagen [climate conferences] on reducing our consumption of fossil fuels for the sake of the planet suggests that nations are not yet prepared to ease back the throttle. What is true at a personal level appears to be echoed at the international level. The voice of God is being drowned out by the greed in our hearts and the seductive music of the shopping malls. And underneath all the noise is the sad silent fact that Christian believers also are sometimes losing touch with the sacred centre of their lives, finding that a relationship with a credit card more instantly rewarding than a personal relationship with God.”
The bishop is telling us that while the threat to the environment is a global problem and it can only be put right by individuals embracing value systems that look beyond self and who are willing to accept changes to lifestyle that will make things better. Our insatiable demands for more and more from an exhausted planet that has no more to give must go. “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it” – not ours.