Making Footprints Not Blueprints

S07 #10 - Embracing climate adaptation positives in our settings in good company - A thought for the day

December 02, 2023 Andrew James Brown/Caute Season 7 Episode 10
Making Footprints Not Blueprints
S07 #10 - Embracing climate adaptation positives in our settings in good company - A thought for the day
Show Notes Transcript

The full text of this podcast can be found in the transcript of this edition or at the following link:

Please feel to post any comments you have about this episode there.

The Cambridge Unitarian Church's Sunday Service of Mindful Meditation can be found at this link:
"New Heaven", written by Andrew J. Brown and played by Chris Ingham (piano), Paul Higgs (trumpet), Russ Morgan (drums) and Andrew J. Brown (double bass) 

Thanks for listening. Just to note that all the texts of these podcasts are available on my blog. You'll also find there a brief biography, info about my career as a musician, & some photography. Feel free to drop by & say hello. Email: caute.brown[at]

A short thought for the day” offered to the Cambridge Unitarian Church as part of the Sunday Service of Mindful Meditation


As many of you will be aware, this week, the COP28 climate summit has begun in the United Arab Emirates against the background of the depressing, but in so many ways not unexpected news that the President of this summit, Sultan Al Jaber, has abused his position to try to sign oil deals with other governments.

Looking on this and earlier global summits can easily produce in many of us feelings of deep despair and even anger. It certainly does in me from time to time, And I think it is important to tell you that over the last few years in my own pastoral work I have found myself being called upon more and more often to speak with and support people involved in climate activism, people who are now seriously beginning to unravel because of the depth of their despair and anger.

Naturally, this state of affairs leaves us with a question about whether there is anything at all we can do anything to change this situation, one which is making people, and the whole world’s flora and fauna, both very sick and killing more and more individuals and species? 

Well, despite the occasional wobble, I genuinely think there is something we can do that is not merely an optimistic whistling in the wind, and what that is we can begin to see when we note that one of the significant problems with the whole international COP process is that it’s pretty much only focussed on “supply-side” solutions, such as renewables, carbon storage, hydrogen and so on. But, as we know, absolutely necessary though these major, very technical, supply-side solutions are, they being rolled out far too slowly.

But we in this creative, free spiritual community feel that the worth of living in life — whether you call that our ikigai, raison d’être, or basic spiritual motivation — is not to be found in technical, supply-side solutions but in the demands made upon us by our faith in the trinity of self, neighbour, and cooperative society, and where the cooperative society extends to an affirmation of the unity of life and nature which further unites us with all things in the universe.

To remind you of in what consists this trinity as it was expressed for us by Imaoka Shinichirō-sensei it unfolds like this:

I have faith in myself. I recognize my own subjectivity and creativity and feel the worth of living in life (生きがい ikigai). Subjectivity and creativity can be rephrased as personality, divinity, and Buddha-nature.

I have faith in my neighbour. The neighbour is oneself as a neighbour. If I believe in myself, I inevitably believe in my neighbour.

I have faith in a cooperative society (共同社会 kyōdō shakai). Both oneself and a neighbour, while each possessing a unique personality, are not things that exist in isolation. Because of this uniqueness, a true interdependence, true solidarity, and true human love are established, and therein a cooperative society is realized.

I have faith in the trinity of self, neighbour, and cooperative society. The self, neighbour, and cooperative society, while each having a unique personality, are entirely one. Therefore, there’s no differentiation of precedence or superiority/inferiority between them, and one always contains the other.

Now, as such a group of individuals gathering together in this creative, free faith, we begin to see that our primary positive role in this climate emergency is, therefore, to be found on the “demand” side of things. We have to find ways to live our faith so that the renewables, carbon storage, and hydrogen etc. are rolled out faster than they currently are because we have played a part in helping the developers/suppliers of these complex and vital technologies to see, truly see at a very basic human level, that there is a greater demand for them than is the demand for technologies and products which rely upon planet-destroying fossil fuels.

One way of doing this is to look at something which is being called “resource efficiency” which not only aims at reducing the demand for, for example, electricity or petrol for our cars, but which also clearly communicates to our governments our willingness to restrain our energy use.

And, in fact, we in this community — based firmly on our faith in the trinity of self, neighbour and cooperative community — have already begun consciously to display our willingness for restraint. But, alas, it’s an example we can easily forget ourselves, and it’s certainly one that we haven’t yet been able to make visible to a wider public in a consistently positive way.

So what is it? Well, it’s seen in the fact that in the cold seasons we find ourselves meeting in our modest church hall and not our very beautiful church. Why is that?

Well, you may remember that in 2022, as the price of gas and electricity rocketed following the invasion of Ukraine in February of that year, we all began to realize that heating the church during winter had become extraordinarily, and prohibitively expensive. So much so, that to get the church to between 16-18 degrees centigrade for the hour and ten minutes of our Sunday Morning Service of Mindful Meditation and Music, would cost us at least £132.

The initial conversations about this state of affairs quickly — and to some extent, understandably, centred on a true, but negative presented point — which was that being a small congregation with a tiny income we simply couldn’t afford the huge cost and that we had, therefore, to “retreat” to hall which we had to keep warm for our hirers, our primary source of live income. It’s certainly one way to frame and understand this move, but it struck me that there was a much better story that was truer to our fundamental faith in the trinity of self, other and cooperative community, a story which speaks about a positive “advance” in our thinking and behaviour rather than a kind of negative retreat or financial defeat.

It was a story I decided to gesture towards on a poster which I have reproduced for you today, and which is, once again, on the front door of the church.

From 1923 until we built the main church building in 1927, the Cambridge Unitarian community met in the hall. It was originally named the “Carpenter Hall” after Joseph Estlin Carpenter (1844-1927) who was a key figure in the project to build a Unitarian church here in Cambridge. In addition to being a Unitarian minister, Carpenter was also an expert in Sanskrit & a pioneer in the study of comparative religion. In part, it was this kind of openness to other religions & philosophies other than Christianity that led to Gandhi speaking in the hall in 1931. During the last century the hall has proved to be the ideal space for all kinds of events: theatre, music, dance, Yoga, Tai Chi, storytelling, lectures, parties, political meetings, craft shows, poetry readings, inter-faith meetingsx & much else besides. But, for many years we hadn’t used the hall for our own services, until now . . . In the midst of the climate emergency, it’s important that every community finds ways to reduce its carbon footprint & we have become ever more aware that heating the church in winter is not only increasingly expensive, but also environmentally destructive, it’s unnecessary. Given that we keep our hall warm for hirers, we thought it made sense to use it ourselves during the cold months. Of course, by doing this we’ll also be “returning to our roots” and this gives us an opportunity to be reminded that, as one of the most important, twentieth century Unitarian theologians, James Luther Adams (1901-1994), once said, that:

In this church, we accept the truth: By their fruits shall ye know them; but we also accept the truth: By their roots shall ye know them. Where there are no roots, there will be no fruit.
Now, all of this has been a preamble to telling you something encouraging. Namely, it is that I, as your minister, and you, as the congregation, have been asked by the Cambridge Interfaith Programme, based at the Divinity Faculty here in the University of Cambridge, to be involved with a new project, both because we are a faith community and because of the story I have just retold. It is to be one of the faith partners in a funding bid by Cambridge and Bath Universities to set up “a National Centre for entrepreneurship, policy and communities, to accelerate the delivery of Resource Efficiency at scale.”

What, precisely, will this look like? I don’t know. Will the bid succeed? I don’t know. But, alone, the request to be involved serves to remind me that, our faith-driven move from the church to the hall in winter is a significant advance and not a retreat. It is part of our proclamation of faith in the trinity of self, other and cooperative community, and of the ultimate, intra-dependent unity of all people and all things.

But, with typical bureaucratic insanity, the form used to make the bid apparently only allows each faith partner 10 words, and so my 1500 words here are redundant. But, when I told this story to Iona Hine at the Cambridge Interfaith Programme she suggested the following, lovely, ten-word summary, and with it, I’ll leave you today:  

“Embracing climate adaptation positives in our settings in good company.”