This week, following a report by the UK's Environmental Audit Office, MP's in the UK have called for a worldwide ban on plastic microbeads in cosmetics. Although the UK government says it is committed to protecting the world's oceans, the MP's called for stronger action than the voluntary steps some manufacturers have taken.

 

Plastic microbeads are tiny balls of plastic used in toothpastes, shower gels, and facial scrubs. Manufacturers use them because they are mildly abrasive, increasing cleaning power, and because they bulk out a product, reducing the amount of active ingredient used. Researchers say that a single shower can release as many as 100 000 tiny plastic particles into the water supply. These pieces of plastic are accumulating in the world's oceans and are harming marine life. Creatures eat the particles of plastic, which lodge in their gut reducing the amount of food they can ingest, and so ultimately causing starvation. Other sources of microplastics include worn tyres and particles released from fleece clothing during washing. Scientists have found microplastics on the ocean floor, in Arctic sea-ice, and in every sample of sea-water they have collected from around the world. MP's say they recognise that the plastic microbeads only make up 4% or less of the plastic pollution in the oceans, but that a worldwide ban on plastic microbeads in cosmetics would indicate a commitment to tackling the wider problem.

 

The sea and land pollution caused by our waste plastics is not a new discovery. For many years, scientists have been telling us of the damage done by the plastics dumped deliberately or inadvertently into our oceans each year. Many of us will have seen the obvious damage; turtles or dolphins drowned after becoming trapped in plastic netting, but most of the damage remains hidden from sight. Many of us will have rejoiced at the reduction in plastic bag use in the UK and will be willing to play our part in reducing or preventing damage we did not intend.

 

Many of us will face three main challenges to our good intentions. We may not know whether or not our actions contribute to the damage caused. We may feel that we 'do our bit' so we are free from blame or guilt, and it is not our problem. Or we may feel that the little we can do will make so little difference that it's hardly worth trying. I find my Christian faith helps me with all of these challenges. Jesus taught that we are each responsible before God for our own choices and our own behaviour; so I cannot use the excuse that, 'What I do won't make a difference'. Throughout the Bible, there is a strong sense of community, of teaching each person to see themselves as sharing responsibility for their culture's wrong doing. So I cannot argue that I am absolved from guilt because I do not behave in a damaging way, or because I do not know what is happening. These things together encourage me to do what I can, reducing my plastic use, cutting loops of plastic before throwing them away. And they encourage me to talk about my reasons for my choices, and to sign petitions or join groups campaigning for change.

 

  • In what ways do you see yourself as responsible for, or not responsible for, the damage waste plastics are causing in our environment?

  • How do you feel about the concept of sharing responsibility for something you did not personally do or encourage?

 

Prayer for the week - 25th August 2016

 

 

Along with all the media coverage of Olympic events, and winners and losers, I have seen or read coverage of four marriage proposals. On each occasion, a very public arena became, just for a few moments, a very private and personal space.

 

During the first week of the Games, an Olympic venue worker entered the pitch after a Rugby sevens game and asked Brazilian player Isadora Cerullo to marry her. Chinese diver Qin Kai asked his fellow diver and girlfriend of six years, He Zi, to marry him during her silver medal award ceremony. The following day, British race walker, Tom Bosworth proposed to his boyfriend. And after the British rider, Charlotte Dujardin, won her gold medal in the individual dressage, cameras showed her fiance wearing a T-shirt reading, 'Can we get married now?' though this wasn't strictly a proposal as the couple have been engaged for a while. Whilst these public proposals have all been greeted with great delight by the watching crowds, they have also been described as 'manipulative' and 'indecent' on social media.

 

What marriage means, and how much it is a private or a public matter, has varied hugely throughout different cultures and different ages. For most of recorded history, marriage has only been between opposite sexes, though the concept of marriage between one man and one woman has probably never been a universal concept. The fact that two of the proposed marriages reported during the Olympics will be same-sex marriages shows how our global concept of marriage is changing. In the UK, marriage as a legally binding contract simply did not exist for most people until a few hundred years ago. For those for whom it did exist, it was primarily a contract controlling the transfer of land or property. One of the authorised forms of worship for the Church of England still teaches that the purpose of marriage is 'for the procreation of children' and as 'a remedy against sin,' reasons that I suspect would raise a few eyebrows amongst UK couples preparing for marriage today.

 

Throughout the Bible, the analogy of marriage is often used to describe God's relationship with humanity. In the Old Testament, the covenant between God and humanity was seen as like the marriage covenant between man and woman, with protection, support and care provided by one side, and loyalty and devotion by the other. Jesus taught an equality in marriage unheard of in his day, and Paul continued this teaching in his New Testament writings. Children and sin are barely mentioned in connection with marriage in Old or New Testaments. Marriage is seen in terms of love and care and faithfulness, a public expression of a covenant between individuals, determining their role within community. The feature of marriage repeatedly likened to God's covenant of love with us, is that of lifelong, faithful and public commitment to one another's well-being throughout good times and bad, and whether we deserve it or not.

 

  • Most of us are familiar with the concept of someone making a commitment to God, but how do you respond to the idea of God making a commitment to us?

  • How much do you see marriage as either a public or a private commitment?

  • In what ways does your experience of marriage or relationships influence your understanding of God's relationship with humanity?

 

Prayer for the week - 18th August 2016

 

 Last Friday, athletes from 207 countries took part in the opening ceremony for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, a vibrant and colourful ceremony that featured climate change as one of its major themes. For two weeks, sport will be headline news as millions follow the Olympics who might not normally watch sport.

 

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