If you’re standing, perhaps you had better sit down. Take a deep breath! This may come as a bit of a shock.
I am an addict.
Not an easy thing for a Christian leader to say. We are meant to be “hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined” (Titus 1v8). And addiction seems the opposite of these – especially self-control and discipline.
I’ve been an addict for a long time. In fact, looking back, I have never known a time in life when I was not. It’s not entirely my fault. I grew up in a culture of addiction, surrounded by other addicts. More than that, I grew up in a community of suppliers. A business that drove much of our lives, meeting the cravings of what I and others wanted. It gave us a secure life. And we were a close-knit community, providing for the needs of others too. None of us, suppliers or users, realised the damage that we were – are – doing to other people. But then, that’s what addiction is like, isn’t it? Your view of life becomes narrowed. Feeding your addiction becomes the priority, regardless of the hurt it causes to yourself and others, near and far.
The first step of the “Twelve Step” programme used by many groups working in addiction recovery is to “admit we are powerless over our addiction, that our lives have become unmanageable”. So, what do I feel powerless over? What I am I addicted to?
More precisely fossil fuels that are central to the way we create the energy that sustains our lives. I grew up in a coal mining community, providing fossil fuel that powered industry and provided light and heat to our homes for generations. And while over the past 30 years our reliance on coal has dwindled, we still largely rely on other fossil fuels – such as natural gas and oil – for electricity, heat and transport.
And its costs! Not only our wallet at the petrol pump, or the price of heating and lighting our homes and church buildings. It costs creation, the wondrous gift that God generously shares with us. Over the past two hundred years, the Earth has warmed by about one degree centigrade as the level of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have grown in the atmosphere due to our fossil fuel use. Our lives are too much for creation to manage, bringing pressure beyond what it can bear.
If you have been watching the media recently, then you’ll know this. David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg have raised the profile of climate change in the public consciousness. The activities of radical groups such as Extinction Rebellion have shamed governments and local councils into declaring climate emergencies – churches too. Perhaps you agree with what they say; applaud their devotion and commitment. Maybe, you acknowledge that addiction is bad. Yet, it’s harder to recognise it in yourself.
At the start of autumn, many churches celebrate Harvest, giving thanks for the wonder and God’s gift of creation. This Harvest take a small step towards making it personal. It may be a bit scary, but take a moment to explore how much of an addict you might be. Look at the Climate Stewards Carbon-Calculator website (www.climatestewards.org/offset). Or download an app onto your smart phone – such as “One Tonne Future”. Become aware of how much carbon dioxide you produce through a year. If we are to avoid dangerous climate change, then we need to reduce our carbon footprint to about one tonne per person a year. How does yours compare? Why not share your carbon footprint with your church or small group. Or use the app together one Sunday morning to see what your churches carbon footprint is?
“Admit we are powerless over our addiction, that our lives have become unmanageable”. That’s the first step towards recovery – for our lives and for creation. It may be a long, lifelong journey. But I’ve taken the first step. Admitted that I am an addict. That despite my interest, understanding and even best intentions my life is too unmanageable for God’s good and wonderful creation to bear.
Over the coming year, each month, we’ll be exploring how the path of the “Twelve Step” programme might help us towards greater freedom for ourselves and creation that Jesus came to bring. It’s hard, even impossible, to manage and recover from addiction of your own. You feel powerless. We need other addicts to travel with us. Our shared powerlessness helping one another to take steps to change lives that have become unmanageable. Discovering more of the “self-control” that is one of the hallmarks of the Spirit of God shaping our lives – “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal 5v22,23). And, “since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal 5v25), beginning a journey towards recovery – for ours and creations sake.
Rev Dr Dave Gregory is Ministry Team Leader at Croxley Green Church, a former President of the Baptist Union, and co-ordinator of Messy Church Does Science. He recently became a JRI Director.
This article was first published on Seventy-Two and it is reprinted with their permission.
Image by Merio from Pixabay (Free for commercial use) https://pixabay.com/illustrations/assistance-barefoot-carbon-990332/