Meeko Warriors - or Is it Possible to Change the World without Alienating Everyone?

by Alison Phelps

As unseasonably warm sunlight streams encouragingly (or should that be alarmingly?) through the window I reflect again on the hidden challenges of being serious about some of the Anabaptist Network's core convictions. I hadn't foreseen some of the stark dilemmas involved in balancing the simple sounding ‘good news to the poor' with ‘caring for creation', in juggling friendship and justice, mission and economics, family bonds and global warming.

A helpful asylum seeker from Burma washes up enthusiastically in our kitchen under running hot water. Will she understand if I insist she uses a bowl in the interests of energy conservation?

Can we afford to provide LOAF goodies for our local community parties (Local Organic Animal friendly and Fairly traded)? And will they eat them? Such a contrast to the Coke, samosas, grapes and lurid penny sweets as favourites! Can we afford not to?

Not long after their golden wedding anniversary, a devout couple have a serious row over their central heating. With an eye on the Creator and her grandchildren's futures, she wants to green her lifestyle but he reckons he's earned a bit of comfort as blessing after a long hard life.

Through getting to know a young Congolese refugee, our congregation has developed a partnership with his home church and has financed a building to replace the one that was destroyed by rebel soldiers. Six months ago, five representatives flew out from Leeds to Uvira to celebrate the new worship space and now we are busy fund raising to buy air tickets to welcome a few of our new found brothers and sisters into our homes. The relationship certainly feels like good news in DRC to this particular financially poor community and good news in Leeds to our confidence-poor church community, but perhaps it is bad news to the unseen poor at the mercy of rising sea levels. Is this a responsible use of resources?

And is linking air travel to extra tax or planting more trees through a carbon offsetting scheme really a present day equivalent of the mediaeval sale of indulgences, soothing rich consciences, masking the need for deep-rooted metanoia? What about the encouragement of hard-pressed church members in Zimbabwe and Egypt made possible by cheap flights? Should families with far-flung relatives feel guilty about visits?

Thirty years ago, Ronald Sider's Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger challenged individualistic lifestyles. A certain green legalism was not far behind as various readers reacted differently to prophetic truths. Jesus' warning about specks and planks obscuring eyesight became as relevant to the discussion of personal choices then as it is now. A few years later the Christian Ecology Link was formed and has faithfully championed the issues that have now become prime time media headline topics. Christians concerned about world poverty, Jubilee 2000 supporters and peace campaigners used to lobbying decision-makers on global matters now find themselves needing to concentrate on changes closer to home. A green response to house construction, purchasing preferences, recycling, transport choices, renewable energy, food miles and holidays can bring integrity to campaigning and put pressure on governments.

George Monbiot, the environmental activist, presents many positive and perhaps achievable lifestyle changes compatible with a dramatic reduction of carbon emissions, but sees no creative answer to one aspect of life. He writes of the insoluble problem of ‘love miles': travel essential to healthy relationships. Telephone and video conferencing, text and email may be effective ways of communication for many purposes, but it is hard to imagine substitutes for a real hug, real tears, risky peacemaking, sacrificial companionship, delicate reconciliation work. BBC News quotes a Barbara Haddrill of Wales who spent 51 days and £2000 to travel overland to be a bridesmaid in Australia (rather than a £450 plane ticket and 25 hours flying) to reduce her carbon footprint. This solution to the tug of war between love for known individuals and love for creation won't be feasible for many.

One frustration is the problem of estimating environmental impact. If products and services carried a measurement code (like the calorie counts), then it would be possible to make more informed choices, perhaps ‘save' for a long haul flight, perhaps trade ‘carbon allowances'. Meanwhile I shall remember the outrageous Mrs Jellyby in Dickens' Bleak House, who was so concerned about her Africa project that she serenely overlooked her household's needs. And I shall muse on the straining of gnats and swallowing of camels as we strive to tease out the true shape of justice and faithfulness.