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Dave Bookless, God doesn’t do waste: Redeeming the whole of life (IVP, 2010)

£7.99, 160 pages cover

Buy from: http://www.ivpbooks.com/9781844744732

Author details: http://www.st-edmunds.cam.ac.uk/faraday/Biography.php?ID=196

My bookshelves contain numerous worthy books, all bought with good intentions, which I have hardly read beyond the first few pages; a small volume on the theology of Wittgenstein springs to mind. “God Doesn’t Do Waste” by Dave Bookless, well-known for his writing and speaking on environmental matters and as founder of the conservation and environmental movement, A Rocha UK, is however, well thumbed from cover to cover.  It’s a gripping story in which he weaves together an account of his life, his faith, his struggles with suffering and failure, and how caring for God’s creation and inspiring others in this became his vocation. He manages to slip in some theology too!

As a young student studying for ordination in the Anglican Church Dave had always loved nature and was a keen birdwatcher, but had never seriously considered environmental issues. It was whilst on holiday in the Scilly Isles, standing on a cliff top, looking down at the ‘tip’ containing the debris typical of our throwaway culture – plastic bags and cartons, tins, bottles and rusting cars – that he had a quiet epiphany.  He sensed that this question was being asked of him:  ‘How do you think I feel about what you’re doing to my world?’  God was challenging him about his lifestyle and about his impact on the planet. 

He went back to college hoping for guidance in his course, but quickly realised that environmental theology was (at that time, at least) largely being overlooked by many Christians.  Yet while studying the Bible for himself, the centrality of the whole of creation in God’s purposes, became increasingly evident; it became clear to him that, from the Garden of Eden onwards, the Bible teaches that caring for the earth is foundational to what it means to be human. 

So, with much trepidation and prayer, Dave and his wife Anne began to make this environmental concern part of their early ministry. In his first parish in Southall, a multi-cultural area in West London, Dave realised that it was in this crowded urban environment that action was most needed. He tells an inspiring tale of how a seemingly impossible dream became a reality. Church members and other faith groups collaborated to transform an area of disused heavily polluted wasteland into a wildlife reserve which now shelters rare orchids and kingfishers. Those involved found this type of collaborative action did not dilute their faith, as some feared, but rather strengthened it and enabled a genuine sharing of beliefs.  This was the start of A Rocha UK, an organisation which encourages and enables Christians and others to take seriously the mandate to care for God’s world.

Yet, as the full title suggests, this book is much more than an environmental success story.  It’s a deeply engaging read that, in recounting times of ill-health and despair, movingly illustrates how it is often when we are most broken that God can work in and through our lives.  The title ‘God doesn’t do Waste’ doesn’t just refer to hope for a planet wasted and scarred by human activity, but offers hope for our wasted opportunities or talents.  As Dave Bookless puts it:

 This is a story about the messiness that every human being wades through in every area of their lives, and a God who can take all that seems most wasteful and useless and recycle it into something of infinite worth.

It’s also about the importance of learning to depend on, and work with others, both within the wider community and closer to home. Written in an anecdotal and conversational style, this is an enjoyable read which will encourage reflection on our own priorities and lifestyle. Throughout shines a deep sense of wonder at the beauty of the world, anguish at the destruction so carelessly wreaked on it, yet also hope that even with our flaws and frailties, we can all be a part of the solution.

Clare Redfern, The Faraday Institute for Science & Religion



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