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October 2020 - Tending my garden

Friends,

I had one of those long moments of fleeting despair last week, and it was awful, as if the sky had been peeled back.

It was a combination of news about the coronavirus pandemic, global warming and climate change, and the imminent demise of the Church of England, Brexit, racial injustice and possibly more. We are heading into the winter with a government that clearly doesn't have a handle on Covid-19 and is flailing policies like banners flying at a [cancelled] summer festival – first this way and then that. We know things are going to get worse, and it feels like a slow motion video of a juggernaut crashing into a bridge (what happens when an unstoppable force hits an immovable object?), and it all feels so inevitable.

The fragility of humanity is being exposed by forces beyond our ken. When things get too big or too problematic, it seems that the human response is simply to disbelieve it, a sort of coping mechanism of self-willed blind denial. We often lack the imagination to begin to comprehend, not simply the science, but the consequences, the magnitude, the implications of our own actions. Like a small child rolling snowballs from the top of a mountain – we simply don't seem to be able to envision the possible avalanche, so we keep on throwing snow.

There is knowing, and there is knowing. We know about climate change, global warming, likelihood of virulent pandemics, death, entropy and taxes, but so many of us live as though we don't, or would simply rather not countenance these inconvenient truths. Perhaps we are the unstoppable force, and the consequences of our planetary misuse is the immovable object, and the inevitable will one day happen. And that is when I feel overwhelmed.

The answer? Well, I don't really have one. My response? I will tend my garden.

This is not some kind of escapist landscaping. The reality is that I can only influence that within my sphere. I can't make my neighbours recycle (though they seem to do so diligently, even enthusiastically), but I can reuse, recycle and reduce my own stuff. I can't make others burn less fossil fuel, but I can work to limit my own, and save money at the same time. I can't change government policy single-handedly, but I can write a letter or two and I own my vote. In short, I can tend my own garden. I can influence that which is in my power. I can do my bit, and that gives me, if not a sense of overall peace, a degree of agency, and we all have that.

In September we celebrated Climate Sunday, part of the Creation Season. Not a gentle reminder, but an urgent call to arms. And perhaps my despair begins to turn to hope. Not that the church will weather the financial crisis (that is going to prove problematic on a national level), but that we are practised in envisioning a future that is different, that is better, that is just and whole and healed. I shall try and make my [metaphorical] garden beautiful, deploy my agency, and encourage others to do the same. And perhaps, just perhaps, the unstoppable force will stop, and the immovable object will move.

Nick Bird
your Rector

This letter from Revd Nick Bird appeared in the October 2020 issue of The Grapevine