Our Food, our Fibre and their Ecological Footprint: what has that got to do with Faith

by Dr John Williams

Proverbs 8:22-27
Colossians1: 15-20
Revelation 21:1-6a

Gordon Ramsay asked us to think through the passion underlying what we do. Where do I find energy and a sense of purpose…where does it come from?

I can trace a strong sense of what gives me meaning to my parents and in this area of my life from my Dad.

Dad was a grazier who produced fine wool and beef in the hill country between Bungendore and Captains Flat.

I well recall standing with him as we watched the last truck with our wool leave the shearing shed. It had been a good year. We had produced 500 bales …as the truck faded into the dust horizon Dad said to me…”yes its been a good year but I just wish I could produce this stuff without damaging God’s creation so much”.

The Footprint of Food and Fibre
What we eat, wear and live in all impact the Land and its waters.

That cotton you wear required

the destruction of native habitat,

water taken from a river

energy to fuel machinery,

to fertilize, construct and apply the pesticides,

transport and refine the product.

Yet we rarely consider clothing’s impact on the environment.

What we eat impacts rivers, forests, estuaries, lakes and oceans.

We eat a lot of water…

embedded in food.

A Standard meal – steak, potato, salad, wine requires approximately 5,500 litres of water.

The food we eat and the clothes we wear impact on the land and its rivers…

I just wish I could produce this stuff without damaging God’s creation so much.

Our rivers are dying because we have extracted too much water.

It is not the farmer who has damaged the river.

We are all involved .

We wear the fibres,

We eat the food

that extracted too much water.

Rivers are living things.

They must have water flows

that can sustain the activity

of all the organisms that live in them.

This is what keeps a river’s water

clean enough for us to extract.

Our need for food and fibre determines the impact you and I have on the land and water.

I just wish I could produce this stuff without damaging God’s creation so much.

Food and fibre have an ecological footprint.

Consumers need to know what that is.

Currently we do not.

Australians have insufficient information is suitable simple and accessible forms that accurately tells us the footprint of our food and our fibre.

Correcting two market failures would help

Firstly food prices food rarely include the cost of maintaining and improving the natural resource base from which it is produced.

This is a clear indicator of market failure.

Australia needs a regulatory framework that ensures that all food reaching the consumer is produced in ways that minimise the damage to natural resources and the environment.

Without a strong drive for food and fibre products to be produced according to such a standard, the cost of continued degradation of natural resources will remain a hidden subsidy that eats into our environmental assets.

Secondly the agricultural community can no longer be expected to produce cheap, clean food and fibre, as well as provide a free service to maintain all the essential ecological functions of the landscape(like clean water, clean oxygenated air, habitat for wildlife, pollination, carbon sesquestration).

For this to be realized new markets for ecosystem services are needed. As these markets develop, we can expect an increasing proportion of farm income will derive from the management of healthy landscapes, rivers, wetlands and estuaries, the production of clean water and the sequestration of carbon dioxide.

Today, farmers are seen simply as the providers of food and fibre.

Tomorrow they will be seen as the custodians and managers of the life support systems for society as a whole.

I just wish I could produce this stuff without damaging God’s creation so much.

My Dad saw more than just a farm.

He saw his duty of care to the land…

that it was in his own interests to

not damage the productive capacity

of the soils and vegetation.

Yet he felt for the land itself,

as if it were sacred

and worthy of care

and nurture in its own right.

I am an Agricultural Scientist

largely because I have long been challenged

and encouraged by my Dad words…

to study, experiment and think how can we produce the food we eat and clothes we wear in ways that do not harm God’s creation.

I have written often about Farming without Harming.

But what has all this to do with Faith.

Where in the gospel is there a word or where in scripture are there passages

which show that the earth, the land, and its waters matter?

The earth that our loving God created is falling apart and where is the wisdom? We have rooms full of books on personal salvation and redemption but where do I find Christian wisdom on the redemption of the wonderful creation that supports my very breath?

I just wish I could produce this stuff without damaging God’s creation so much.

A self-centered reading of the gospels

suggests Jesus had nothing to say

to our present ecological predicament.

The gospel is all about our personal salvation…about human spiritual salvation and the social justice and care that follows…but appears silent on the natural world of ecosystems on which we depend for life itself.

Is such human centered perspective all there is?

I am on a journey of discovery

Colossians and Revelations

call us to reflect and regain a balance

by giving more attention in our worship

and practice to the creative mystery

and the cosmic nature of Christ in our tradition.
Joseph Sittler at the General assembly of the World Council of Churches in at New Delhi in 1961 spoke from Colossians and stated,

“These verses sing out their triumphant and alluring music between two huge and steady poles-“Christ” and “all things”…

Christ comes to all things, not as a stranger, for he is the first born of all creation, and in him all things were created.
He is not only the matrix and prius of all things: he is the intention, the fullness, and the integrity of all things: for all things are created through in and for him.
Nor are all things a tumbled multitude of facts in an unrelated mass, for in him all things hold together. ”

We have a new story

I see the big picture –

that God is reconciling and restoring all creation.

This is the story we can share with whoever will listen.

Creator God blessed the whole creation –

which includes us…but not only us…

Creator God acts and speaks

both within and beyond creation….

God cared so deeply for humanity

to become flesh and dwell with us.

I am convinced that God cares deeply

for all that God has created and continues to create….

To make these re-connections…

to understand the epilogue in Revelations and the Hymn to Christ in Colossians chapter 1 –

requires much work.

To see more clearly

God’s concern for the reconciliation and restoration of all creation

is a fundamental part of the gospel.

It is not a side show, an add-on extra,

but rather the gospel at its core.

By engaging this truth ensures that

we do have a story to lead us into the future.

This is my passion –

That in the light of this deep gospel story we will need to re-discover, affirm and live out our new story… we need to develop our story…a story that leads us to understand how we fit and might live in the ecosystems of the earth so that the whole of creation might be reconciled and renewed.

We need to pray, listen to God, ponder the scriptures and learn, grow our new story, a new song for the earth.

The hope and assurance that we can is written in Col 1:20
Sittler again:

“Colossians will not allow us to contain our theology of redemption within the narrower (although profoundly important) orbit of human sin and forgiveness. It must involve other creatures. The rest of creation cannot be seen merely as the stage on which the drama of redemption is played out. The Colossians hymn insists that the whole universe is caught up in the Christ event.”

I think maybe my Dad has a glimpse of what Christ and the creation was about.

Join me on a journey as I pose the question:

Has our focus on the historical Jesus been such that we have neglected the post-resurrection Jesus who is alive and with us?

By not giving spiritual attention to the Christ…the post-resurrection Jesus…the word… the logos…the cosmic Christ….have we missed what is so important in our time….the renewal and healing of the ecology and life support systems of the planet…the on-going work of our loving God and creator?

Well that’s my best effort to tell my story.

…but it is very much a story that is unfinished. Can we who have grown up in a Christian family where the gospel ended with personal salvation and a cry for social justice possibly grasp a much larger and grander view of Jesus the Christ?

My answer is yes we can!

I see signals that it emerging as our story here at Kippax

If so we can be assured that the post-resurrection Jesus will be the wind under our wings.


John Williams

Acknowledgement: I gratefully acknowledge the late night assistance of John Emmett in the preparation of this message.

Key readings:

Ayre, Clive

The Church In The Eco-Crisis


Collins, Paul, 1995 God’s Earth. Religion as if it really mattered. Melbourne: Dove.

Edwards, Denis, Jesus and the Cosmos. Homebush (NSW): St. Paul Publications.

Edwards, Denis, Jesus the Wisdom of God. An Ecological Theology. Homebush (NSW): St Paul Publication.

Habel, Norman,A theology of deep incarnation and reconciliation

See: http://www.seasonofcreation.com/theology/incarnation/

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