It was 1980, and I took my youngest brother Martin, then aged ten, to see the film Flash Gordon at what was the ABC, but still known as the Regal, at the bottom of Beckenham High Street. The film, set to a Queen soundtrack, is a hammed up sci-fi meets comic book drama, featuring US football star Flash Gordon and his girlfriend, Dale Arden.
So far, so good, but then Ming the Merciless, who normally hangs out on Planet Mongo, appears, with his idle scheme to destroy the earth. Needless to say our gallant pair get drawn into the ensuing drama and at a point where things are looking pretty grim for the future of the Earth, Dale pours out her heart to Flash, declaring her love and that the planet is facing destruction!
“Flash, Flash, I love you, but we only have fourteen hours to save the Earth!”
I won’t say more for fear of giving a plot-spoiler to anyone gripped thus far (!), but suffice to say, Dale’s declaration has an uneasy realistic resonance today, with today’s threat being climate chaos rather than Ming the Merciless.
The reality of climate change is depressingly familiar, and year by year, depressingly starker. The UN report issued in the summer, was described by the UN chief as Code Red for humanity. It painted a picture of the increasing frequency and severity of extreme heatwaves, droughts and floods, of a key temperature threshold being broken, and the spectre of ice cap melting, with the consequent rise in sea-level.
What the UN report sets out in clear, consistent, peer-reviewed science, is manifest on the news and our experience. Greece has suffered more wildfires, the US too, and we are becoming more used to deluges of a Noahic proportion. Climate change is a serious contemporary issue impacting on millions of lives, not least the most vulnerable communities, and presents the spectre of climate catastrophe facing today’s younger generation.
Time wise, Dale Arden’s 14 hours is a bit sensational, but with just a month to go before the vital COP 26 climate conference in Glasgow, time is fast running out for nations to reach a range of key agreements including a science-informed pathway to net zero carbon emissions. That is a point when no more carbon goes into the atmosphere than is removed. In addition, two other key elements need agreement. First, further measures to mitigate the threats that we will continue to face, and second, significant finance to support the poorest nations and communities, many of whom have not had the benefit of an oil-based carbon economy but are paying the price for the profligacy of richer nations.
Just now, we need a superhero, someone with the deep and age-old wisdom of David Attenborough coupled with the bravely prophetic Greta Thunberg. For they both draw on sound science to speak truth to power. But for me there is another vital aspect of life that is needed to inform the politicians around the negotiating table in Glasgow. That of faith with the age-old relationship between creation and spirituality.
The psalmist often drew on images from the natural world. Psalm 23 tells of green pastures and still waters as a place for soul’s refreshment and restoration, revealing nature’s capacity to heal. Such refreshment was experienced by many through lockdown days as people discovered or rediscovered the joy and simplicity of nature.
Psalm 19 gives what is personal, a cosmic dimension, in its opening declaration:
The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
It is as if the whole of creation is lifting its heart in praise to the creator God.
Jesus used nature imagery, too. For example, when through inviting people to consider the lilies of the field, he was helped people reflect on the link between worry and material possessions.
The association between nature and spirituality was continued by many a 19th century cleric who deserted their parish duties in favour of country rambles with butterfly net, binoculars or magnifying glass in hand. I confess in my 21st century study, I have a growing collection of nature field guides and books, and I’ve loved slipping out to see butterflies from time to time this summer.
It is in our self-interest to conserve and nurture nature, and as Christians we have the additional motivation to tend and care for the God-given gift of Creation. Recent theology has embraced the importance of stewardship of the earth, with creation-care viewed as an intrinsic part of Christian discipleship. The philosopher Francis Bacon wrote:
“God has, in fact, written two books, not just one. Of course, we are all familiar with the first book he wrote, namely Scripture. But he has written a second book called creation.”
For me and countless others, God’s two books of scripture and creation form a whole, and I value reading them both, in study, easy chair and out in the field. So for me, spirit-filled heart and soul, are a vital third characteristic that is needed at COP 26. So my vote for a superhero at the UN Conference is someone with the wisdom of David Attenborough, the plain-speaking zeal of Greta Thunberg and a modern day St Francis, who cherishes the wonders of creation, speaks of sufficiency and lives in simplicity, yet joy.
Walk gently on God’s gift of creation, walk well,