Richard Chartres is the 132nd Bishop of London. He founded the St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, a unique meeting space in the heart of the City of London devoted to promoting understanding of the relationship between faith and conflict. Richard is the author of the book, Tree of Knowledge, Tree of Life, and has written many articles and essays on faith and the environment.
Jesus Christ was brought up in a place that was dominated by the agricultural year. Many of his parables have to do with agriculture, and some of his healing miracles are very earthy – I think of him picking up some earth and spitting on it, and then putting it on the eyes of the blind man. So here we have somebody who is profoundly close to the earth. That’s not very surprising, because to be humble is to be very close to the humus – the Latin word for earth.
He lived in the context of the Jewish scriptures, which not only have covenants between God and the chosen people, but also have a cosmic covenant. We are here, says the Book of Genesis, “to dress and to keep” the creation. We’re not to tyrannise it – we’re here as stewards. We are to balance development and preservation, and this is summed up in the covenant that was made with Noah, the covenant symbolised by the rainbow. Jesus Christ comes as the one who opens the door to the new creation and says, “Behold I make all things new”. He comes to refresh, restore and redeem not only human individuals, but also the whole creation. We see that particularly in the vision at the end of the Book of Revelation, where there is “a new heaven and a new earth”.
How concerned are you about the state of Planet Earth
(on a scale of 1-10 where 1 = not worried at all! and 10 = extremely concerned)?
I try to learn from really competent scientists. In most areas of life, I find that lay people are more alarmed than the professionals. But this is one area where I find the professionals are more alarmed than lay people. Their alarm is based on actual observations – the acidification of the seas, the destruction of the base of the food chain in the oceans, the rate of melting of the Antarctic ice sheets. While I think we can’t contemplate the kind of scenario James Lovelock holds out to us – because if we believed what he is saying, we’d be totally immobilised – I think there is nevertheless very considerable cause for alarm.
One of the mysterious things is that until recently all this evidence has signally failed to translate into real energy for change. I was at the Lambeth Conference in 1998 (the Anglican Church’s 10-yearly conference of bishops worldwide), and I was in the environment section. Only one American bishop was with us, and he very soon revealed that he did most of his pastoral visiting by private airplane. Meanwhile, in the section next door, huge numbers of Western bishops were traipsing into the section on sexuality. Our section was full of people from the Philippines, from Africa, those who really understood what the consequences for the poor were of the environmental degradation we are facing.
Increasingly I change the way I travel. In every respect I’m trying to change the way I conserve energy. I think restraint is not only an economic question, it’s also a question about one’s cravings, fundamentally. So I think that going slower, celebrating enough-ness, doing all those things that people are very sorry they haven’t done when they are about to die – these are very practical ways of responding to the real emergency we’re in.
I love trees and I don’t see enough of trees, but I wouldn’t want to be any tree. I’m not an uncritical tree-hugger. I would be flowering cherry tree. Not very useful, but standing for the truth that the meaning of life is not merely utilitarian, but there is also a major place for the celebration of beauty and sheer joy.
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We asked a number of Christians in different professions some questions about Jesus’ green credentials and how they follow Jesus today, in the light of environmental impact, climate change and all issues green.
We also asked them what plant they’d be, hence the images to the left.
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