Appreciating the environmental activists

A very interesting Appreciative Inquiry session today with people involved in environmental mission around Yorkshire and beyond. The intention was to talk about their passions and what have been their best successes.  Here are my reflections while sitting in Asda in Keighley marking time before another meeting!

In a Christian context I feel that care for the environment is always warmly talked about but not always understood as an essential part of church mission – environmental issues take a back seat when we think of the call to worship God, make disciples and tend to the poor. “people put environment in a box” was what one person said.

Environmental issues take us beyond our immediate and local concerns and in many ways connect all of us. “Jesus died for the whole of creation not just people” was how someone put it reminding us that creation is not just global but cosmic. Our theology should be a cosmic theology – so let’s share a bigger gospel. As we are primarily called to worship God we can say that we are worshiping Him WITH all of creation.

Environmental groups are quite rightly associated with campaigning for greener energy procurement, the reduction of carbon emissions and other critical issues concerning the planet’s survival.

“Care for the environment is not an option – we are doomed otherwise” was one contribution. Christians and the church, though, can offer a different model of hope.

From a Christian point of view the motivation cannot be just be about survival but about worship. Our duty is to care for the environment not out of fear but out of love for the creator.

The question of church growth and evangelism is preoccupying the diocese. So does environmental concern equate to an evangelical mission opportunity? One person suggested that when it comes to the environment God is already at work in the hearts of many people – whether Christian or not. There is a natural God given longing towards caring for the environment which is shared by all of us; the church can help interpret that longing and help people understand God already at work in people’s lives.

On the question of care of the poor (which tends to gain resources and attention from our church communities), environmental concerns are relevant. The scourge of mental health problems brought about by repressive and unhealthy environments is shocking. The absence of green spaces where people feel safe, cramped and badly maintained homes and unclean streets all take a part in defining poverty. Ironically our church building far from enhancing the local environment are a hazard in themselves and draw resources away from poverty action. So yes, local environmental groups have a part to play in transforming our communities and those who live in them.

From our conversations today I can see that care for the environment has big part to play in healing and reconciliation within our communities. There are many examples of local environmental groups that have brought different sections of the communities together – growing and sharing vegetables, creating safe and beautiful community gardens, arranging for local people to walk and talk together. The work with young people and schools is commendable.

We can engage with our neighbours in helping to improve the local environment. In doing this we can build relationships which are essential to reaching people with the gospel message. “We have lost the practical agenda”, says one, but by engaging in environmental issues we can re-connect with our neighbours.

“It is really depressing where we are at the moment but we as Christians can bring a message of hope. We can be a catalyst in the community, inspiring the practical and spiritual”

Longing to see something new

Why we take photographs is something for each photographer to answer in their own way, but it is often about self fulfilment and the urge to make something other people will appreciate. It  might also be about learning a skill as a means of building self esteem and achieving something. For many people it’s just a way of keeping a record of people and events. At its best though, photography is about watching and waiting to be captivated by something mysterious – to explore and discover images we hadn’t planned or expected to see.

Bark Calvery

If we go into the field with a preconceived idea of what we are looking for, the ideal photo, then there is a good chance we will not see what is actually there. We are conditioned to see the world in a particular way and to filter out anything that doesn’t conform to our expectations. This is deep stuff because what we think is true about the world may only be what we allow to pass through our particular coloured lens.

So, it seems to me, photography is about submitting ourselves to the possibility that there is more – more than we expect or can imagine. To make this shrouded world visible we have to be open to nature and not control it, to be willing to spend time getting to know it.

When I search the Internet for inspirational landscape photos, as I often do, I am mostly disappointed. It seems to me that many people (including me) are striving for the textbook photo – a well composed shot of a classic vista at dawn in the style of a celebrity partitioner. I picked up a small book recently offering a guide to classic Yorkshire landscape locations. The guide is full of information about location, time of day, composition tips. It makes me wonder whether this isn’t more reflective of our desire to be accepted and feel we belong to the club.

If our creativity doesn’t challenge and disrupt our normal patterns of  feeling and seeing then it is simply a nice piece of decoration.

And so as I sit in the wood near my home I am waiting in the silence to be found by nature and introduced to something I haven’t seen before. I am looking for a connection not just with the natural world but with its creator and longing to be immersed in that relationship.

 

 

Black Beck in Heber’s Ghyll Woods

Heber’s Ghyll Woods is about 10 minutes walk from our house. It’s a lovely walk up some steep steps beside a tumbling beck – Black Beck according to the map. You climb through trees and criss-cross the beck over a series of bridges leading up to the edge of the moor.

In the last few weeks the falls have been wonderfully energetic.

Everyone usually heads for the Cow and Calf Rocks or to Middleton Woods, but I think this spot deserves more time and attention.  more photos

Complex Wood

I have taken out an online subscription to www.onlandscape.co.uk which is brilliant I have to say. On the site there is an interview with David Ward who’s work is terrific. In it he said he is always looking to simplify his images. I heard a similar thing from David Bailey who said he was always working towards a blank sheet of paper.

Walking in the woods it has always been the complexity that has fascinated me and so the idea of trying to simplify what is already complex seems to me to risk losing something of the nature of it.

Another quote from someone is that “for every complex problem there is always a simple solution, this answer is usually wrong”. In fact I would say the “keep it simple” mantra has become something we no longer ever question in almost every creative field!

So as I walk though the woods today I have been thinking about complexity and how to embrace it.

Cut is the branch

cut is

Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight,
And burned is Apollo’s laurel bough,
That sometime grew within this learned man.

Faustus is gone; regard his hellish fall,
Whose fiendfull fortune may exhort the wise
Only to wonder at unlawful things,
Whose deepness doth entice such forward wits
To practise more than heavenly power permits. [Exit.]

(Scene XIV. Marlowe, Christopher. 1909-14. Doctor Faustus. The Harvard Classics)

Just Pray advert, is it in the real world?

The purpose of advertising is to gain attention and to put over a message that people will remember. Remember that.

I think the JustPray.uk ad is cheesy and really quite odd in the way it’s presented but I do get the message that prayer is relevant in our everyday lives.

justpray

I have been though some deeply terrible situations where I have been incredibly supported through prayer. Friends have prayed, I have prayed and the connection between people and God has been profoundly evident. For those who have not experienced prayer I can quite understand how strange it must seem. But I would say that for me prayer is not a ceremonial uttering of words during a church service but a dialogue or connection with God that is always open. The presence of God and our conversation with him is something which is there in every situation – we carry the presence of God into all situations no matter how small. For me the realisation that we can have a dialogue with God at all times was a turning point for me. I don’t get down on my knees or go into a linguistic spasm, I just talk. It works.

The Just Pray advert was supposedly intended to be shown in cinemas but the rejection of the advert can only have been a good thing. The emotional engagement with the film has been intensified and the attention it has gained has been significant. I used to produce promotional films when Mary Whitehouse was alive and kicking. A complaint from Mary Whitehouse was always considered a blessing because of the added publicity it would generate.

But all that promotional stuff is grubby isn’t it? It is possible that those responsible knew it would not meet the straight forward cinema policy and that rejection could be an advantage. The word “ban” being a stretch.

The reaction against the ad seems to suggest that people think it is imposing some false view of the world or that religion, to use that unimaginative term, is being “rammed down our throats”. Let me just say that the manipulative way commercial advertising plugs into our deepest needs and values is quite shocking. Our lives and values are being heavily manipulated by commercial advertising agencies. Let’s not be too harsh on a campaign which in my experience is plugged into the real world.

 

 

The wood is not yet dead

woodIt doesn’t seem long since we were enjoying blossomy trees and children were playing amongst the bluebells. Now, life is retreating again and the sun is muted by washed out skies.

The wood is not yet dead just preparing for rest, and this clearing is like a house strewn with the remains of a riotous party. It is a place recovering from the excesses of time well spent.

It is peaceful here where the smell of decay is sweet. There is not much sound, only the crunch of leaves and a lone crow’s call stabbing onto into the cold air.

The wood is not yet dead and the glorious shades of yellow and red seem to insist that in even in the dark seasons  is something to celebrate.

The beauty of the wood never ends, but it also never stands still. The wood is not yet dead.

Shared journey

Some years ago I was working in a department in which the boss was unhappy with the level of productivity. He was piling on the work and unhappy that not enough work was being done and not to a high enough standard. His solution was to send everyone on an inspirational time management course. His hope was that we would all get more work done and improve standards. Here’s why it didn’t work.

On the course we were encouraged to prioritise the work according to its urgency and in particular its strategic value. And so, we all became adept time managers.

At the time the department didn’t have a clear strategy and so we all worked to meet our own personal strategic objectives – these were to do with getting promotion, winning awards, working with our favourite teams. We became very confident in the art of saying no. Because there was no clear direction the staff would push back with hard questions about how the work would meet strategic aims. The boss got less done than before, and the staff became more difficult to manage.

Reflecting on this some 20 years later I can see just how valuable a shared understanding of vision and purpose is for the work we do. A failure to provide a clear articulation of purpose and values is disempowering for staff who will inevitably find their own direction. There is really no use in pointing a finger at difficult and under performing staff if there is a disconnect between the ideas and energy of the staff and the company vision.

Each of us is operating according to our own personal goals, passions and energies. When we talk about human resources we sometimes only count the numbers of person hours available. These calculations may look ok on the company dashboard but people need fuel to make them come alive. What we end up with sometimes is a strong, over paid manager trying to kick start an empty engine. Manipulative, bullying management doesn’t work. The ideas, passion, and goodwill of the people is the real resource we share.

Where people’s ideas and energies are valued and there is shared purpose time will be found.

Keighley stands together to protect children and condemn grooming.

The Church of England is at its best when it can bring people together around shared values. I have had the privilege of working with the folk in Keighley to launch a campaign to protect the town’s children from sexual exploitation. The aim is to bring the whole community together in a statement of unity. I share the story with you here.

_MG_5124

The United Keighley Statement was launched tonight at Keighley Cougars stadium under the banner, ‘All our Young People Matter’

Community leaders and representatives from local organisations gathered at Keighley’s Cougar Park stadium to unite in support of children affected by sexual exploitation. The initiative, formed through a community wide partnership, invites all sections of the community to sign a statement of unity condemning grooming and committing to protect all the town’s children.

Instrumental in pulling together this community partnership has been the Reverend Jonathan Pritchard in his new role as Town Chaplain. Reverend Pritchard said, “we want to take a stand in here in Keighley and show how much we care for our young people. Whatever our background or religion or ethnicity, together we want to make our voices heard”

The United Keighley Statement sets out a shared commitment to condemning grooming and calls for everyone to work towards a town free of child sexual exploitation. Those gathered to give their support for the statement included the town’s mayor Councillor Javid Akhtar and Toby Howarth Bishop of Bradford together with Monsignor Kieran Heskin representing the Roman Catholic Bishop Marcus and Mohammed Saleem of the Keighley Muslim Association.

The Rt Rev Toby Howarth told the gathering, “Keighley has a name for coming together at times of crisis, standing together shoulder to shoulder. We can’t just hope that someone else is going to deal with it. This is our issue, this is our problem because it affects all of us together”

In the coming weeks the whole town will have an opportunity to sign the statement at venues across the community. People in Keighley will be able to sign the statement through churches schools, mosques and community centres that display a ‘All our Young People matter’ banner.

The ‘United Keighley’ statement which community groups, schools, colleges churches, mosques and many other groups have signed up to states:

Grooming children for sex is wrong: any sexual abuse of children is wrong. Whoever does it, whenever, wherever. It is morally, legally and spiritually wrong. It harms our children, it harms all of us. There is no place for it in Keighley or anywhere else. And we utterly condemn it. We want to live in a town where all children are safe from sexual predators. We want our children to be safe from abuse. We want to be safe from abuse. We, the many different peoples of Keighley, commit ourselves to work together to make this happen.