“The facts are friendly; God is in the facts….”
I’ve often used this phrase which is based on a working rule of Richard Rogers, the psychotherapist, who insisted that the facts were always preferable to any distortion or concealment.
But then I wonder why my own sermons are light on facts and heavy on ideas, feelings and beliefs. For example, I am utterly persuaded of the human contribution to what may become overwhelming climate change, yet I have never outlined the facts of this development in any sermon. Doubtless I have mentioned it as a present danger, but I have avoided any serious recital of facts. This is not because I don’t know rhem, but because I know the congregation would prefer not to be faced with them, especially in church. In the context of Sunday morning, the facts seem unfriendly, divisive, challenging and impolite.
That’s because they are.
I live near the sea, on the estuary of the river Tay, so daily I benefit from its loveliness, while daily also I can see its extensive pollution by human and animal excrement – in truth the water is not safe for swimming- and less visibly by tiny balls of plastic which havee become part of the marine food chain, affecting the lives of millions of creatures. Even before I look at the even more disturbing facts of the effects of the melting of the arctic ice cap, I have encountered facts which lead me to question my way of life, our assumptions about waste disposal, our industrial carelessness – and our irrelevant politics, which even at their best are about the division of the cake, at a time when the cake, and probably the table, may disappear altogether.
So yes, the facts are unsettling, and mentioning them is unlikely to increase church attendance.
But there are even more unfriendly facts. It appears from surveys that although more than 50% of Scots accept that humanly generated global warming is happening and dangerous less than 5% allow this issue to affect their political choices. This may be evidence of a people sleepwalking to disaster. In comparison with the projections of what may happen as global warming continues at its present rate, the facts of the human assualt on nature are kind indeed, because if people can accept them and act upon them, they will change in a benign rather than catastrophic direction.
Pope Francis has spoken of the filth with which human beings have besmirched God’s creation; he has described capitalism as the devil’s dung. This plain speaking has not won him many friends, but it has emboldened many priests worldwide to speak out in turn. That will surely contribute to a political climate where people might just vote in favour of their grandchildren’s safety.
The witness of the Bible is that God will not intervene to save this planet from his human children: God will only act in partnership with them, just as he/she works in partnership with all life and all energy. God is present to humanity in the facts offering the hard choices that lead to life. The ministers of the church, like me for example, ought to direct people clearly to the friendly facts.