The Earth from the Air

Enjoying the Christmas season with friends, we spent some time visiting our local historic city of Bath and were impressed to discover an amazing exhibition of photographs around the city centre and in particular at Bath Abbey.

These fabulous photographs are by Yann Arthus-Bertrand and mostly taken from the air by helicopter. See the links for the brochure of the exhibition in Bath and more information about the Earth from the Air project including pics of some of the photos. The exhbition is in Bath until the end of January – go see it!

The exhibition encourages sutainable development, and the first few lines of accompanying text are arresting. “Since 1950, economic growth has been considerable, and world production of goods and services has multiplied by a factor of 7. During the same period, while the world's population has only doubled, the volume of fish caught and meat produced has multiplied by 5. So has the energy demand. Oil consumption has multiplied by 7 and carbon dioxide emissions… by 4. Since 1900 fresh water consumption has multiplied by 6, chiefly to provide for agriculture.” Most of this increasing consumption is by the fifth of the world's population who live in industrialised countries.

I wonder about some of the data and conclusions to do with climate change, and consider whether by talking about climate change we risk missing key points by inappropriately conflating partially related issues. However this kind of information  leads me to think that whatever else is going on our consumption is out of control, which points to an underlying cause of greed.

Be born in us today – a Christmas Sermon

St Bartholomew, Corsham, Christmas Eve

Come Holy Spirit,
 fill the hearts of your people
  and kindle in us the fire of your love,
   for Jesus’ sake. Amen

A new born baby!

If there is one thing that seems guaranteed to produce a reaction, it is a new-born baby!

Whether it is around the hospital bedside, or around the buggy in the street, the assembled friends and relatives will go “Ooh, aah, isn’t she beautiful!”

At least, that’s what the women do, the men are more likely to stand back looking bemused. That is, until our own baby is born when we join in excitedly and proudly.

So it’s good to be celebrating Jesus’ birth tonight.

Babies are amazing. Human beings are amazing. And all the while God is looking on, saying: “We made him!” Or, “We made her!” I like watching nature programs on t.v. Among all the other creatures we can be gob-smacked by, let’s remember that human beings also are creative, created, and amazing.

Tonight we celebrate the Christmas event: that is the birth of Jesus. The fact that this happened approx. 2000 years ago and we’re still celebrating shows that it is a rather special event! Tonight we read passages from the Bible and sing carols that all remind us of what took place. It is hardly surprising that, there at the centre of it all, is a group of people going, “Ooh, aah,” around a baby.

Well, compared to your average birth today, there are similarities. There is the group of people.

However it is a little unusual that at various times the group includes shepherds, who are summoned from their fields and sheep by angels praising God, and magi who have arrived by following the stars.

God looks on, this time not just saying: “We made him”, but “I am him.” This is the awesome truth of the Christmas story: that God becomes human, or incarnate (which means the same thing). God, who amazingly created this small and wondrous planet that we live on, chooses to come and live among us.

Like those visiting shepherds, and magi, we need to have a sense of awe. I wonder when you feel that? Perhaps you feel it every Christmas. Perhaps you feel it when you see snow on the ground, or when you look up at a clear starry sky, or when you see the first spring bulbs coming into flower. Perhaps you feel it when you see a new-born child. These are moments when we have to recognise that life is not all about ‘me’; that we don’t do everything on our own; that there must be a God, and that he must love us a lot to surround us with such creativity.


If you were part of that “Oooh, aah” crowd looking at the new born Jesus, what would you be thinking?

If you were going to sing a few lines from your favourite carol to celebrate, which would they be?

Some of us live very much in the present moment, aware of what is around us, and indeed soaking up the beauty or awesomeness of a new-born child. “Wow! He’s got his father’s eyes! He’s got his mother’ nose! (Oops!) What a pretty dress!”

Others of us like to think to the future. “Have we finished decorating the baby’s bedroom? What school will he go to? Will she get a good job? Who shall we ask to be the God parents? When shall we have the baptism, or christening?”

We are all human, and we do have different skills, strengths and interests. These become more evident as we grow older, and so we know that it is our duty as parents to do our best to nurture any growing child of ours – so that they can make the most of their life.

As far as we know, Jesus went to school in the way that other boys of his time did. He worshipped at the synagogue on the Sabbath, and spent most of his life following in Joseph’s footsteps to work as a carpenter. It was only when he got to the age of about thirty that he stepped into new work and started to teach and to gather disciples around him. We don’t know exactly how Jesus became aware of this, but it was a serious change in vocation.

This change was marked in a number of ways, including at Jesus’ baptism by his cousin John, which as a church we shall celebrate in a few weeks’ time. This is the famous moment when heart-warming words from heaven were heard by the crowd announcing Jesus’ place in things: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Maybe, for some of us here tonight, life will be like that. We’ve spent all our lives working in what we thought was the right job, then along comes God and says, “Follow me!” All change – a new vocation!

As we think about the birth of Jesus, and what his presence means to us, we could talk about such differences, but instead let’s talk about some similarities.

For all of us as Christians, our baptism marks the moment when we put our lives into the hand of God and allow him to make the most of us – to help us to become the people he made us to be, to live life to the full and enjoy it.

I wonder whether you believe, as I do, that God has plans to prosper us, to give us hope and a future; that he has good work in store for us to do; and that if we will connect with him we shall discover the best for our lives?

So we can stand in the crowd around the new-born Jesus and be struck with awe and joy. We can also wonder about the potential of this child.

We may have different vocations, but as Christians we share a vocation to care for one another; to connect in a spiritually intelligent way with creation around us and its Creator; and to make good use of the gifts that we have.

It is these small acts of love that bring hope to the world.

I asked you what few lines of a hymn you might want to sing.

My favourite hymn is O Little Town of Bethlehem, and two lines in particular.

O holy Child of Bethlehem! Descend to us we pray,
Cast out our sin, and enter in; be born in us today.

It is an awesome thought that as people and as Christians we can celebrate Christ’s birth, and we can also celebrate his birth in us. We can wonder at the potential of a baby, and we can wonder at our potential. We choose to nurture a new-born child, and we can also choose to nurture Christ in us.

As St Paul writes, Christ in us is “the hope of glory”.
(Colossians 1:27).

Our world needs hope, and it is the way that we let God work in us that brings hope to the world. We need to nurture him.

Tonight we celebrate again our kinship with the new-born Saviour. With those gathered shepherds we wonder what it all means.

Watching God and us grow together, nurturing the Christ within us, is the only way we shall find out.

O holy Child of Bethlehem! Be born in us today.


Climate Change Conference

As I write the conference in Copenhagen about climate change draws to a close. Some people claim that there is a consensus that global warming is caused by human action that has caused an increase in carbon dioxide. There are notable opponents to this view, including Viscount Christopher Monckton who has spoken out at Copenhagen. He claims that human influence counts for at most one sixth of the global warming, and that government attempts to deal with this by telling us what to do are an abuse of power.

In other words, he says that powerful people are making use of the “scare” to gain more government-level control over world populations. I should like to dismiss such theories, except that it seems obvious to me that people can seek to use any opportunity to advance their own cause or power. See my article about Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine.

As I understand it, religious people who warn us against the creeping threat of one-world government or one-world religion see this as the fulfilment of Biblical prophecy. The fact that some of those who bring such prophecies are portrayed as insane in media reports does not mean that they are wrong. Prophets have a proud heritage of being misunderstood or ignored (and at other times their advice is acted on). Logically there are three possible positions each of us may take: concerns about one-world government (etc.) are unfounded; the concern is real, and the climate change lobby are part of the movement; the concern is real, but the climate change lobby is not related in to it.

I'm not sure I find these things helpful, because I don't find scary information helpful unless I know what to do about it. Such interpretations or predictions do not suggest that we should take action, rather they suggest that it is part of God's plan – revealed in the Book of Revelation and elsewhere in the Bible – for things to get worse before the final successful battle of Christ over evil. So that suggests that all we can do is watch. The only action advocated (and which readers should thus take seriously) is to fear God and avoid the “mark of the beast.”

It may be tempting to ignore anyone who says what we do not want to hear, whether it is those saying we caused climate change, those saying we cannot blame others for climate change, or those who want to put God at the centre of the conversation. Even if only a small part of climate change is caused by human generation of increased carbon dioxide, there is still the observation that our seas are becoming more acidic to the detriment of shell fish and corals.*

My own belief is that solid progress will not be made while climate change is seen just as a problem to be solved. There needs to be recognition of the connectedness between ourselves (humans), Creator, and creation (which includes our distinctive role or vocation). In such a framework the underlying issue would be seen as sin, and in particular greed. So progress requires that as individuals we do not only look at what practical steps we can take to reduce energy consumption, but that we also look at our underlying beliefs and the effect they have on our behaviour and take penitent steps to address that too.

I also wonder what would happen if, instead of wondering whether we are to blame for climate change and trying to change the climate (King Canute and others have failed), we invested the energy in looking for technological and humanitarian solutions for those populations which are expected to be affected most detrimentally. 

It is extremely difficult for a single culture to recognise the ways in which its own belief systems are self-destructive, so maybe that's where the prophets come in.


*Source The Week 19/12/09 quoting Charles Clover in The Sunday Times.


This week I heard some fascinating presentations about helping people to reach their full potential. The occasion was one of the regular get-togethers organised by the Institute of Business Consulting in South West Britain. The evening, yesterday, was hosted at At-Bristol by Veridian plc who wanted to tell us about their learning tool Freemind, designed by Tom Fortes Myer.

This is a collection of recordings on CD which individuals and organisations can use to get rid of the blocks to achieving their full potential. The underlying belief which Tom explained, and which I can agree with, is that performance = potential – interferences. So achieving potential is about getting rid of blocks. Before the talk I spoke to someone who had used Freemind. She spoke of how it had transformed her life since she started to understand that every situation she faced was an opportunity for her own development. That statement is, itself, transformative. by which I mean that it changed my own way of thinking.

The recordings are available on CD or by download from the Freemind web site, which includes some sample recordings free of charge.

Tom's talk was complemented well by a talk by Jan Childs of EQ4U about Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and how it is much more important in the development of leaders than IQ. I recommend her book “Understanding Emotional Intelligence in 90 minutes,” which can be purchased from the web site.

Part of my own fascination is the relationship between Emotional Intelligence and Spiritual Intelligence. Spiritual Intelligence is to me about the uniqueness, connectedness, and vocation of human beings in creation – which embraces the growing desire amongst employees in particular and people in general for meaning and purpose in their work. I notice that Jan heads off in this direction in her book, particularly in the final chapter, and I see the Tom's approach to unlocking potential as drawing together the spiritual and emotional.