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Time to Act, by Jeremy Williams, and Like There’s No Tomorrow, by Frances Ward

by
21 August 2020

David Chillingworth on going both inward and outward in a crisis

THE climate emergency looms over us — over future generations as well as our own. We seem unable to bring either focus or urgency to the challenge. These two books explore very different responses, and yet they are entirely complementary.

Time to Act offers a series of contributions by Christians who are members of Christian Climate Action, a “movement within a movement” in its relationship with Extinction Rebellion. They explore the morality and the limits of non-violent action as a Christian response. It is the work of a group of people of passionate and urgent commitment to their cause.

Frances Ward’s book, Like There’s No Tomorrow, is a deeply reflective and interior exploration of her response to the emergency. The thread that binds it together is her account of a voyage on her narrowboat, The Lark Ascending, through the heart of England. The slowed-down pace of the canals as the boat moves through beautiful landscapes allows time for deep and slow spiritual reflection on God’s world and our relationship with it.

Time to Act is an urgent book. Christian Climate Action’s foundation statement includes these words: “Inspired by Jesus Christ, and social justice movements of the past, we carry out acts of non-violent direct action to urge those in power to make the change needed.” The contributors explore the justification for and the limits of responsible non-violent action. They draw on the work of Martin Luther King, and quote his famous letter of 1963 from Birmingham jail, Alabama: “the fourth step is the direct action itself. It comes as a last resort, when there really is no viable alternative.”

PAExtinction Rebellion Cambridge activists protest on the lawn of the Senate House, Cambridge, last week, against the university’s fossil-fuel investments

Extinction Rebellion’s actions are noisy and disruptive. Are those who take part in such actions in the name of Christ acting thoughtfully and with good conscience? Martin Newell’s thoughtful contribution says that “the primary thing is about being faithful, not successful.” Phil Kingston says: “I will not take actions which have a random . . . impact on others. I would rather take actions that are very focused, geographically, so that I am present to take responsibility for what I am doing.”

These are measured and responsible statements — but I wonder whether they state clearly enough what exactly they hope to see happen in response to their activism. I’m not sure that I could see that agenda in the contributions.

Ward describes her voyage as one that “changed my outlook fundamentally, from despair to hope, through lament, to find God’s grace all around me, and in that grace to begin to hope, fiercely, with a deepened faith and love” .

Much of her thinking is rooted in the Psalms. She is influenced by the way of writing which is sometimes called theopoetics: “a way to talk of God with poetry, metaphor and the imagination”. What makes this book both special and unusual is the way in which Ward expresses how she is burdened by the climate emergency: “When we are living with deep anxiety . . . we react by forgetting the grace of God, turning away into mind-numbing trivia.” She describes “dry faith” and the “constant sense of foreboding”.

But grief for what the world is losing can give birth to activism. What more can she do “to turn my future angst to the good”? She finds, as she reads Psalm 19 — “The heavens are telling the glory of God” — a new resolve beginning to take shape; for Ward finds that the Psalms “call us to account for our abuse of the created order. . . They offer the words of a lament for the future with a fierce hope.”

This is a beautiful book, accessible because it follows the thread of her voyage; and enlightening because it follows the thread of her spiritual reflections.

 

The Rt Revd David Chillingworth is a former Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

 

Time to Act: A resource book by the Christians in Extinction Rebellion
Jeremy Williams
SPCK £9.99
(978-0-281-08446-3)
Church Times Bookshop £9

 

Like There’s No Tomorrow: Climate crisis, eco-anxiety and God
Frances Ward
Sacristy Press £12.99
(978-1-78959-088-3)
Church Times Bookshop £11.70

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