Unhappy feet, unhappy planet
Kia kaha, taking a stand
1 Corinthians 16: 13 says, "Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong."
In the parable of the fig tree, Luke states that in God’s mercy the hand of judgement is withheld by Jesus against Israel and particularly Jerusalem, while one more opportunity is offered to the ruling priests, for repentance. If they still refuse, their doom will be sealed. The story thus informs us that God will not stay his hand forever, but there is yet ‘a space of grace’ before the axe falls.
This respite period can also be seen to apply to the present international situation whereby within the next few years, unless social injustices are corrected and threats to humanity are moderated, the consequences for this planet of ours will be catastrophic.
In relating the parable, Jesus is not only talking to the decadent, he is reminding people of the inexorable moral law, that one thing inevitably leads to another, that if we drift, we’ll surely shipwreck.
As was the case in his day, Jesus is thus making it clear that those hothead warmongers, who refuse his summons to repent, to change direction, to abandon their crazy flight into national rebellion against Rome, then they must expect to suffer the consequences of their foolhardy action. In other words, he was telling them that, ‘Those who take up the sword will perish by the sword’. It should have come as no surprise therefore when some years later the Jewish Revolt in (66AD-70AD) was brutally suppressed by Emperor Vespasian.
How do nations change direction? Through their leaders? Through legislation? Through movements of renewal or revival? Or only through the responses and dedications of individual people. Maybe it’s all of these things. Maybe it results from some catalytic action where the conditions are just right and waiting, poised for that unique set of circumstances that initiates the chain reaction of social reform.
The analogous situation with the fig tree and its inability to bear fruit, may just have been waiting for fertiliser to be added and the soil surrounding it to be tilled and aerated. Certainly the task of renewal is unimaginable when it is one person’s responsibility, but it flourishes when it is an integral part, the centre, the focus, the raison d’etre of the life of a society. But it’s a huge task, when we consider the problems in the world that exist today.
The world's disadvantaged
Eight hundred and fifty million people who do not get enough to eat. Seventy million people (refugees and asylum seekers) forcibly displaced, mostly in developing countries.
Two thirds of all refugees worldwide come from just 5 countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia. United Nations says that up to 10,000 people are held in detention camps.
Political turmoil, extreme poverty and rampant violence in Central America have recently fuelled a humanitarian crisis and Venezuela represents a powder keg with major players taking opposing sides.
The US administration continues to erode safe pathways by blocking migrants from Central America claiming asylum, separating families and forcibly returning asylum seekers to languish in improvised shelters in Mexican border towns.
Migrants as distinct from refugees are those who fleeing poverty, seek to settle in other countries in search of a better life. Smugglers exploit the desperation of migrants yet only half of those migrants leaving Libya, have made it to Europe and over 1000 migrant people drowned in the Mediterranean during 2018. In the month of January this year some 369 migrants have died in the process of migration to an international destination.
Thirty million primary school age children are unable to attend school because they live in conflict affected areas. Some 50 countries that have no laws to protect women and girls from physical abuse and violence. Corruption, bribery, theft and tax evasion is rife costing some 1.3 trillion US dollars in developing countries.
Wealth inequality is soaring and currently a disproportionate number of the world’s population amounting to some 5% own 90% of the wealth.
Global emissions of carbon dioxide have increased by 50% since 1990 having grown more quickly over the last few years. According to two US Agencies, the United Kingdom Meteorological Office and the World Meteorological Organisation, last year was the fourth warmest year on record. British meteorologists are predicting that the next five years will be much hotter, maybe even record-breaking.
Last year there were 14 weather and climate related disasters that cost more than US$1billion with a total of US$ 91 billion. At least 247 people died in these disasters. A recent discovery has found that an enormous cavern located in ‘Thwaites Glacier’ in Antarctica that once held 14 billion tonnes of ice has melted in the course of just three years and flowed into the Southern Ocean. A study predicts that this so called doomsday Antarctica Glacier along with other adjacent glaciers such as Pine Island Glacier, could collapse within decades impacting significantly on the global sea level rise.
Researchers including scientists at New Zealand’s GNS Science research institute, and scientists from Canada, the United States, United Kingdom and Germany have used satellite measurements of recent ice mass changes to show that within a few decades increasing Antarctic meltwater would form a ‘freshwater lens’ on the surface, allowing rising warm water to spread out potentially causing further melting of Antarctic ice.
Model predictions also show that in the northern hemisphere, Atlantic meltwater would substantially slow ocean circulation affecting coastal ocean currents such as the Gulf Stream, these changes leading to more extreme weather events and greater year-to-year variation in temperature in some parts of the world. More heat would then be trapped in the Gulf of Mexico, meaning the frequency and intensity of hurricanes there would increase.
According to a recent report by some 210 authors, global warming is also on track to transform the frigid, glacier-covered mountain peaks of the Hindu Kush Himalaya region resulting in a third of the ice melting by 2100. These glaciers help to provide water, irrigation and power for up to 2 billion people and a thaw will disrupt rivers including the Yangtze, Mekong, Indus, Yellow, and Ganges which directly or indirectly supply people with food, energy and livelihoods. Other recent effects of climate change include salt water inundation problems in South Sea island nations such as Kiribati and Tuvalu due to rising sea levels, relentless heat waves and drought as we have recently witnessed in Australia and New Zealand.
The occurrence of strings of powerful rain-storms such as the ones in Northern Queensland causing extensive flooding; wildfires in California, Tasmania and other parts of Australia as well as New Zealand, and in the northern winter months, the fact that temperatures are rising twice as fast in the Arctic as the rest of the planet resulting in the displacement of the so called polar vortex stream, causing severe cold air to move south and produce extreme frozen weather (below -30 degrees Celsius) in mid regions of America e.g. in places like Chicago.
We have entered the climate emergency stage and despite disturbing images of the new climate reality, governments of major players in fossil fuel consumption and production, in countries like America and Saudi Arabia, continue to dispute scientific findings as in a recent (October) landmark scientific report that suggested nations must slash fossil fuel use by nearly half in the next ten years or so if we have any chance of guaranteeing respite from a living climate hell.
Regional and global conflicts
Regional conflict bubbles continue to grow. Global superpowers continue their nuclear sabre rattling as they gloat over terrifying new weaponry such as hypersonic boost-glide nuclear weapons and nuclear-propelled underwater drones. Weapons and defence systems in space are also being contemplated.
Escalation in armament arsenals can only serve to heighten the frightening reality of nuclear war.
The situation is further emphasised by the Trump administration recently announcing their intention to withdraw from a pact known as the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces or INF treaty, a bilateral 1987 treaty that has been a centrepiece of superpower arms control since the cold war.
Putin has subsequently announced a ‘quid pro quo’ response, ordering the Russian military to develop new land-based intermediate range missiles previously banned under the INF pact. Currently, China which is not party to this treaty is gaining a significant military advantage by deploying large numbers of medium and long-range ballistic and cruise missiles having ranges beyond the treaty’s limits.
This in addition to China militarizing the international waterway in the South China sea by constructing artificial island features bristling with weapons and fortifications. Whilst citing Russia for ongoing violation of the treaty with impunity, a treaty annulment would inevitably allow the Trump administration to also develop counter measures to the Chinese.
All these developments however can only serve to intensify a budding nuclear arms race. The doomsday clock, the universally recognised indicator of the world’s vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and the new technologies emerging in other domains conveying threats to humanity and the planet, has very recently been reset. It now stands at two minutes to midnight, the closest it has ever been to apocalypse.
A tsunami wave of public opposition opinion is called for since only by working together will our world, as we know it, be transformed, and poverty, social injustice, nuclear arms proliferation and global warming, be significantly changed for the better, with no nation left behind. In recognition that these goals are highly political, nationalism, as currently advocated by a few of the more - wealthy countries in the world, cannot be sustained, since change only comes about when people working together, share their concerns, their knowledge and their skills.
The church as the conscience of the state
Some would argue that it is not the place of the church to become involved in such political matters.
Martin Luther, however, got it about right when he said that it is not the church’s business to be master of the state or its servant, but its conscience, which costs much more.
We in the church are continually being tested and we need to stand steadfast against the injustices of our times. As Christians, our individual contributing voices may be small but that should not detract from each one of us expressing our concerns at what is occurring in the world today. Then our only hope is that together we may ultimately force change by avoiding being side-tracked by self-promoting Government spin, whilst at the same time pushing politicians to act decisively.
We need to become aware of the planet-wide problems that threaten this ‘Garden of Eden’ orchard of ours, and in our enlightened state, like the gardener tending the fig tree, urgently respond to the potential dangers, as well as the widespread inequality and suffering being endured by our fellow human beings.
We must live in hope, that together, our sustained efforts will bear fruit.
Repent or Perish
13 At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4 Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree
6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7 So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ 8 He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”