Sunday, February 19, 2006

Guilt on the gingerbread

I don’t think of myself as someone who goes away from home that often…but I’m just back from my 3rd foray beyond the parish boundaries in as many weeks. This time it was the annual curates’ CME residential, which was once again in glorious Woolacombe Bay Hotel..
I wasn’t too excited at the prospect this time round. With wonderful vicar still in India, I felt uncomfortable deserting my post on a Sunday, and with the boys returning to school from half term tomorrow, it didn’t seem the best weekend to desert the family either.
As a result, I pretended that I wouldn’t actually be going until it was far too late to arrange a lift share, which meant that the weekend started with the piercing irony of my driving 155 miles on my own to learn more about “Sustaining the planet for God and humanity”.

Actually, the drive wasn’t the only thing to fill me with feelings of guilt as the weekend wore on.
Woolacombe Bay is the sort of hotel that one reads about, rather than actually experiencing…Fabulous food, presented as a work of art, rooms so well-appointed I was constantly feeling I ought to tidy up after myself, to avoid spoiling the picture, fellow guests in evening dress at dinner….I felt as if I’d stumbled onto the set for a period drama…or maybe we were all playing Cluedo, and someone would discover a corpse in the ballroom at any minute.
However, churlish though it sounds, there did seem to be something a tad incongruous about such conspicuous luxury being lavished on a crowd of clergy….
I don’t know. It just didn’t quite work, somehow.
Our speaker, Tim Gorringe, was excellent…though his resume of the dire fate that awaits us if we don’t begin to take the implications of our abuse of the common treasury of creation inspired yet more guilt trips. I think I knew most of what he was saying,- after all, I’ve heard him speak at Greenbelt, and am already committed to the Generous Project, but hearing all those statistics presented really did make the blood run cold.
Did you realise, for ezample, that every day an area of forest equivalent in size to New York City is stripped bare? With all our thoughts fixed on the victims of the mudslide in the Philippines, that was a painful thought.
There were more, equally sobering figures, and then some striking observations.
  • That though this is a much celebrated “consumer age”, the definition of “consume” is “ to destroy utterly”
  • That water wars are a real future possibility....already in parts of Mexico the water is so polluted that it is considered safer to give babies Coca cola to drink.
  • That we have completely lost track of the principle of natural cessation, in our obsession with growth. We live in a society that has no concept of limits at all, though history should teach us that each society that over-reaches itself, and seeks to extend itself beyond the natural limits falls and dies.
  • That the resources of the earth are a common treasury (stating the obvious, perhaps) in which there are no superior borrowing/drawing rights….God’s intention is that the resources of the planet should be equally available for all…there is no privileged access to the common treasury, but as long as each takes according to NEED then there will be enough.
Yes, I know that I had heard much of this before, but it hit me with a fresh force, as did my own inadequacy in the face of such colossal political indifference. Tim spoke about “lifeboat ethics”, the system by which governments planned so that come what may, their own citizens would survive…of our own perception of powerlessness and our calling as Christians to live sacramentally, to be the signs of God’s care for all his world, to model his Shalom, that peace with justice which is His will for all his creation.
For me, hearing this in such a beautiful place only increased the urgency of the message. A part of me has always felt that the environment was almost an optional was always more important to respond to the immediate needs of starving humanity than to move towards addressing its causes. Tonight, though, I see things differently. And I've never been so ashamed to be driving home alone.


Anonymous said...

If they want a venue for next year they could always try a little place I know of in Oxford - good food, good chef and moderation in ALL things guaranteed.

sally said...

It's so hard to take these statistics on board..they are so big and we are so small..I take all that is around me for heating, hot water, gas, electricity, clean water, logs and coal for the fire..I consume at a devastating rate - especially chocolate! - it's so hard to change habits of a lifetime.....but good to be faced with the challenge, and to feel uncomfortable about this stuff....

Rainbow dreams said...

It certainly gives a sense of perspective and makes me stop and think, and consider what I actually do day to day - and what I teach my children too...

serena said...

I always feel so troubled by things like this - I never quite know where to start with a challenge like this.

But Woolacombe! I haven't been there since I was 7 years old, but I have so many happy memories of early family holidays with trips to Woolacombe beach :)