In the first chapter we had the story of one of our pastors and a dispute between farmers and cattle herders, some local herders mixed with other herders from further away. We heard about the deteriorating farming conditions that have been affecting both farmers and herders, the geopolitical conditions and the hardening of religious relationships that have spilled over from the suffering in the Middle East into our region. These things combined are the issues most strongly impacting our environment: the lack of good farming techniques, and the lack of cooperation between people to work together on improving their conditions.
I asked our pastor, “Before we had these chemical fertilizers, how did the farmers farm and keep their soil in good condition?” He said the farmers and cattle herders had a good relationship. After the harvest, the cattle were invited into the farms to eat the leftovers. The cattle slept on the farms overnight and their urine and manure were a great benefit to the soils. There was an ongoing mutual, reciprocal relationship between the farms and the cattle, that went on for years. What has happened since then? Oil and chemical fertilizer. Oil, to harden our relationships, and chemical fertilizer to harden our soils. Not that oil and chemical fertilizer are bad in themselves, but our dependence upon them rather than our dependence on relationships has become our ruin. We have believed that with efficiency in technology and markets we can overcome our problems, rather than with love in relationships.
So, I said to our pastor, “Why don’t you rebuild the relationships between farmers and cattle herders even more and move back to how things were once done.” Instead of identifying as Westerners or Islamic in our geopolitical relationships, why don’t we identify as neighbours once again, as we used to? I asked our pastor, “What can we do to deliberately, and effectually rebuild those relationships? Why aren’t people thinking that way? How can we deliberately change, to think and act in this way, that is fundamentally necessary to save our relationships, environments and families, and to show the true gospel to those who don’t the true Jesus?” We have built a “gospel” of scapegoating our enemies, but that is a false gospel. The gospel of neighbourliness is the gospel that Jesus preached. That gospel mightn’t be easy now, just as it wasn’t easy in Roman times, but it works.
All around where we live, we see farmers burning their fields after harvest. I asked our pastor, “Did farmers previously burn their fields like this?” He said, “No, instead they invited the cattle onto the fields to eat the leftovers from their farms and to naturally fertilize their fields.” “Why don’t they do this now?” I asked. He said, “Because, the burning of their fields is a way of saying, “We have fertilizers now, and we don’t need you herders anymore, and this land is ours, stay away.”” Our herding neighbours may see this as an act of hostility, because much of what is brunt would be nourishing for cattle. The over dependence on chemical fertilizers has allowed us to reject diverse community relationships, which according to the gospel are the “abundant life.” Jesus claimed he had come to give us “life in abundance,” and called us to extend our tables to include foreigners, the poor and our enemies. But we have assumed we can have this gospel and life on our own and have called that “faith.” That isn’t faith. Faith is the act of the cross, the act of sharing, of inviting in, of reconciling our enemies.
We at Christian Faith Ministries farm on our own land and our soils are very depleted, hard and infertile. It is the same with soils outside our land. The harvest from them is very poor, as a result of years of chemical farming. Recently, we invited local herders to bring their cattle onto our land and eat the grasses left over from last wet season and sleep their cattle on our land until they have finished. This is a region that has suffered much in conflict between herders and farmers, until recent years. The response of our neighbours, to us reaching out to them and rebuilding relationships in this way, was to say, “You are a very different people.” But we aren’t different. We are just going back to what is normal, to what has been the way of life of the people here for many years, which we have thrown away in our religious propaganda, to our own hurt. The joy of living is to build an integrated community, in which each day our interrelations enrich our fulness. This opens new markets of peace and exchange and brings prosperity to us all. As one person said, “Don’t struggle to lift your own boat. Work together to the lift the tide, then all boats rise.”
If we must use chemicals now to gain a harvest to feed our families, then that is what we must do. But as well, we must work towards a new system of farming, bringing back the natural, diverse and interrelated ecosystems that once were the bedrock of farming.
Jesus didn’t come that we might have empire and have it more abundantly. He came so that in relationships, we serve each other, and complete what is lacking in each other. Then we can work together, and solve our problems, including the environment, which will help us all. Polarization, while we all try to take our place over others, is the main cause of our prolonged problems, which go on and on without being solved. We need to overcome our love of monopoly, over one another.
We need oil, but not an oil monopoly. We need capitalism, but not a capitalist monopoly. We need the United Nations, and national freedom, without a monopoly of the interests of one of these over the other. We need freedom, but our freedom is found in serving others, not in isolating ourselves or in dominating others. We need renewable energies, but not a monopoly of renewable energy.
Renewable energy takes up land also. Large scale sun and wind harvesting has large environmental costs on habitat as well. And these technologies cannot produce enough energy for our needs. Germany gets more of its power from renewable energy than any other nation. But this means it needs gas power to offset fluctuations in solar and wind availability. So long as we rely on renewables, we will need fossil fuels, like oil, gas and coal. France, on the other hand, provides much of its power through nuclear energy, which means its costs are much lower. France doesn’t need fossil fuels to cover energy fluctuations, because nuclear power is consistent, while taking up very little land space. So, if you want to cut out fossil fuels, you will do that with nuclear energy, not with renewable energy.
Modern technology means nuclear power stations are very safe. Even with older technologies, very few people have died from nuclear energy generation. But every year, thousands of people die by pollution from fossil fuels or wood burning. But nuclear power stations that can be built today are far safer than they were. Recent technology also means that nuclear waste isn’t the problem it used to be. Nuclear waste can now we recycled to power nuclear stations. In fact, the waste we have stored already can power the needs of America for many years to come. So this means less mining of uranium. As we work together, and inhibit monopiles dictating our relationships, technologies will continue to provide new solutions in all kinds of unexpected ways. There is no limit to answers we can find. It’s power grabbing and propaganda that hinder us from progressing.
We will be unable to solve our environmental problems without living out reconciliation. In Nigeria, it’s relationships that solves the problems of our environment cooperatively. Science, taken in the wrong way, is a relentless march towards self-dependence and separation. It separates us from nature, from interdependence with our neighbours, from the poor, from our enemies, lifting us up into a “tower of isolation and safety” from all that is perceived as a threat. We build a fortified city, saying, “Destruction won’t come near us.” We try to overcome the world like fallen gods, like the Greek gods with new technologies, not as servants. Acting this way separates us. Acting as servants is the image of the true God and this renews us. Service is the true “renewable.”
We even try to separate ourselves from suffering, through our medicines and artificial environments, and these things in themselves are good, but not if they change the character of our humanity. When we separate ourselves from the suffering of others, we cut off the healing and the restored relationships that renewed environment depends upon. Creation depends upon each part healing each other, bringing together the wellbeing of the whole. If one part cuts itself off, saying “I am god and I don’t need you,” the whole system breaks downs. Creation depends upon us not hiding ourselves from the pain and suffering we should be acknowledging in our neighbour and in nature also.
Not even God cut himself off from suffering. Creation was a venture into suffering, risking the rejection of the humanity God loves. His coming in the flesh was to unite with the suffering, to reconcile and restore the creation. Restoration comes as we reconcile, with the suffering of the poor, the suffering of our enemy and neighbour, the suffering of nature, in which we come together and complete each other. Even God in Christ, was “made complete by the things that he suffered.” The independence of Adam and Eve builds walls and fences that divide and destroy the world. The cross of Christ builds bridges and tables that rebuild humanity into the image of God. Only when our reconciliation with God has become genuine, can we reconcile the natural world in which we live and rule over, as image bearers of his cross and new life.
For too long our world has been geared towards big business, and not towards local community and family building. And that is because the former builds empire and protects our strategic interests as a nation. This is a long way from the integrated life we see intended in the initial creation and in Isaiah’s restorationist vision. We need farming practices and business conditions that build local society. Social farming and social business, that build conditions of peace by strengthening local hopes and not big corporate interests. This is our biggest environmental need today.