I’ve got two daughters, 14 and 11. And they’re discovering nostalgia, a trip down memory lane. They’re enjoying remembering things they used to like, getting stuff out and enjoying them again. I went into our TV room the other day to discover Jemba watching ‘Tellytubbies’ with great excitement!.
One of the areas they’re having great fun over is music – listening to things they used to love listening to when they were little – things I thought I’d never have to listen to again! So, my journey to Greenbelt this year was spent listening to ‘Mr Men’ and ‘Little Misses’ – and even a bit of SClub7. How on earth did that get into the car?
On the journey back, we had to listen to ‘Joseph And The Amazing Technicoloured Dreamcoat’. Believe me, I know all the words. And it got me thinking as I listened – again – to the story unfolding. As the Labour Party Conference begins this morning, there are three things that I see coming out for us from this story.
1 I see in Joseph a person who was called to save lives.
Genesis 50.20 tells us, ‘What you meant for harm, God meant for good, for the saving of many lives’. Joseph was called to save lives – not just that of his own and his family, or even of the nation that he lived in – but the lives of all the nations effected by the famine.
One of the things that Labour has been so good at is reaching beyond individual self-interest to demonstrating a real concern for global issues of poverty and injustice. Creating DFID (Department for International Development), putting us as a country on track to spending seven per cent of GNI (Gross National Income) on aid, Blair’s ‘Commission for Africa’ before the 2005 Gleneagles Summit, Gordon Brown’s continuing emphasis on global education, and so on, were all fruit of Labour putting the needs of developing countries at the heart of its agenda.
This morning I want to remind you of that, and encourage you not to forget your calling to be putting the needs of the poorest in our world central to what you do.
I know there are a whole host of important issues pressing for attention over the next few days – lots of things on the agenda, the press is full of things this morning. You’ve got a manifesto to work on, leadership questions to wrestle with, the NHS to consider etc. But in the midst of all these things, remember that you are here to serve the needs of the poorest of the poor, around the world and also here in the UK. It’s a key part of what the Gospel of Jesus is all about.
2 I see the wisdom of Pharaoh.
He took notice of his dreams and heeded the warning that they contained. Did you look at your Twitter feed this morning? Mine was full of the Climate March. In just a few hours, hundreds of thousands of people around the world will be marching, calling on their political leaders to take meaningful action on climate change in the upcoming talks. I’d be there myself with my children if I wasn’t here. Greg (my husband) is going to the march in Chichester – although sadly I can guarantee there won’t be many at that one!.
My favourite line in ‘Joseph’ is when Joseph says to Pharaoh, ‘that dream you saw in your pyjamas is a long-range forecast for your farmers’. Isn’t that brilliant? What a fantastic line!
It strikes me as ironic that all it needed for Pharaoh to take action against climate disaster were some kooky dreams. We have the best scientific analysis and consensus this world has ever seen, and still we do not act. I’d like to pray for some dreams for our global leaders tonight that might wake them up and shake them up – and cause them to take action!
As Labour you were responsible for bringing in the first Climate Change Act in 2008, establishing the world’s first legally binding carbon targets. You established DECC (Department of Energy & Climate Change), Brown commissioned the first Stern Review and put serious effort into Copenhagen in 2009, during which time of course, Ed Miliband was Secretary of State.
It’s time now for Labour to get noisy again about climate change, to heed the long-range – and short-range – forecast for our farmers that we are constantly being given by climate scientists.
With the General Election looming, the UN Development Summit next September, and next December’s COP (Conference of the Parties) meeting, I want to call on Labour at this conference to set out a strong stall on what climate action looks like, to make it central to the manifesto, and to remember that we need to bring ecology, economy and human flourishing together in order to deliver for society.
To me, if we are going to do this, climate action has to move beyond carbon emissions targets. Let’s face it, despite all our targets our emissions have been rising not going down. We can set all the targets we want but they’ll do nothing unless we challenge continued fossil fuel extraction and challenge continued consumption. This is unpopular I know, but it gets to the heart of the issues around climate change.
Again, a full understanding of the Gospel of Jesus – which sees redemption and salvation as encompassing the whole creation and not only human beings – can ask for nothing less.
3 But there’s one problem with talking about Joseph.
It’s a lovely story isn’t it, that makes a great lesson in Sunday School? But it ends on a sour note because he got caught up in the very system that should have been there to help others (look at Gen. 47:13-21 and see how Joseph ended up effectively putting the whole nation into slavery and dispossessing them of their land).
He got caught up in the power and the fame and the privilege and the prestige. And the story of Joseph contains this sour note as he ends up using the good that he is doing actually to build a better life to his own advantage.
In essence, he forgot what he was called to do.
If we want politics to look different, we have to live differently and not just talk. There is a challenge here – for all of us, but particularly those of you here who are MPs and parliamentary candidates – not to allow yourselves to become disengaged from your communities but to bring your whole lives in line with what you want your policies to be, living with integrity on the ground what you are saying in public.
That might mean making some tough lifestyle choices. It might mean choosing to stay in the house that you’re living in rather than moving upwardly to a nicer one – or maybe for some of you who have made that move already you might need to move back down again. It might mean changing the sorts of people who you have round for dinner. It might mean taking time regularly simply just to walk around parts of your constituency, noting what’s going on around you – detail that can be missed if you’re hurrying from meeting to meeting in a car. You’ll know what it means for you in your situation.
So, let’s be like Joseph, called to save lives
Let’s be like Pharoah, taking notice of the climate predictions and acting wisely.
And let’s make sure that we live with integrity and bring policy and lifestyle together.
(This is the script of Dr Ruth Valerio’s talk at the Christians on the Left church service which marked the start of the Labour Party conference in Manchester. Photo by Heather Staff is of Ruth addressing the congregation)