Rev’d David Coleman is eager to get to know local congregations’ initiatives, and to hear of your trials and joys, and to lead or share leadership of worship, when appropriate, taking note of your own tradition. Encouraging the committed core of congregations is also a high priority. David is an experienced, ordained minister in the United Reformed Church, a mainstream Christian church in the UK, and is also a Member of the Iona Community, having led programmed weeks at the Abbey.
Invite David to visit you by getting in touch through our staff page here
In preaching and in presentations, David makes exciting use of multimedia (see one of his videos below), and is well-equipped to work in very varied venues, not just on Sundays, or Sunday mornings.
A visit from the chaplain is an opportunity to celebrate what it means to be an Eco-Congregation.
Continue reading to follow his thoughts and reflections:
If my role were one which involved authority or discipline, then it might be easy, but maybe it is all the better that I can do no more than appeal, and attempt to convince….
….That the green of our love for the Earth remains in view alongside the penitential purple of Lent.
Ultimately, though, it is not the Chaplain, but the Christian Calendar which issues this challenge:
The Church in its many forms is about to enter a season, variously observed- and sometimes pointedly ignored, – which leads us towards the defining story of Christianity: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Word Made Flesh, who commissioned the Church to be bearers of Good News to Every Creature
Liturgies, hymns, and ways of worship have been cherished and refined throughout the ages, safeguarded against dilution from trivial and transitory issues. Local custom can be at least as rigid as the conscientiousness of an official denominational committee.
The plight of Creation is not such a triviality, to be put on one side whilst we get on with the proper business of being church, but rather, a concern, to take account of which, will deepen and enrich the whole of our faith.
Thus, what I feel compelled to raise, is whether the Easter Message has been hedged around in something of a ring of steel (or perhaps an impenetrable crown of thorns ) comparable to that we will encounter in the COP meeting in Glasgow later this year.?
Close to 500 congregations have made the commitment involved in taking on the identity of an Eco Congregation. How many of these will set that aside as we begin to observe Lent, and move on to Easter?
In the coming weeks we will welcome Jesus with branches, and see him nailed to the Tree, received gently by the Earth, and re-establish contact with his community though a meeting in a garden. The greenery of the story is in plain sight, but will we see it?
Thus it’s an encouragement that Pope Francis, in his Lenten message lists environmental devastation amongst the ‘satanic’ challenges we face . Sometimes we have let such language become emptied of its meaning.
But the denialism which Jesus himself faces up in the temptations, the twisting of truth that all will be well if we trust greed and power and step off the precipice, is insidiously present in our church and national life.
Does anyone expect the message of ‘Satan’ to be obvious? It would be of no danger if so.
If you make something of Lent, you might ponder these questions:
- Do I, or does my church, evade the implications even of the scientific consensus on the Environmental Emergency which we actually believe we accept? Are we always looking for someone else to make the first move?
- Do we insist on perfection, and on ‘solutions’ in the responses to the emergency? Even sustainable energy has an impact, though that may not be sufficient reason not to give things a try.
- If we could make a leap, rather than a step, in our practical response (e.g. from coal/oil to heat-pump, rather than to the temporary and intermediate step of fossil-fuel gas), would we be prepared to do so?
- Is the fate of the world allowed to remain a merely mystical matter in the prayer and worship of my church, or is a clear connection made ?
- Will our message throughout and beyond Easter be one which celebrates a ‘saved’ world, or one which rejoices in the continuing solidarity of Christ in the struggles ahead? Is there a difference ?
- If I’m ‘doing something for Lent’ will this build up my hope and resilience, and ability to face the truth that climate science works hard to uncover? Is there anything more valuable that it might achieve than this?
- If I’m doing something good/worthwhile, as an exceptional Lenten discipline, will I also have the courage to shout about it and make it visible, even at the risk of being thought immodest. Is the risk not just as great that folk will miss out on the encouragement? (Matthew 5:16) let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
Quoting Pope Francis:Continue reading →
“Christ’s wounds are also represented in “environmental disasters, the unequal distribution of the earth’s goods, human trafficking in all its forms, and the unbridled thirst for profit, which is a form of idolatry,”
At my induction, the approach to Biblical interpretation that we might call ‘poetic theology’ was affirmed.
What I’ve since noticed, is that regarding prayer and creativity, as they were in the past, as legitimate tools of theological enquiry often gets you to the same sort of destination as more formal methods.
Theology is a quest for meaning. This is one approach, which is not in competition with rigorous formality, but sits alongside it.
Insights don’t need to be definitive to be valid. I’m not competing with, or aiming to defeat other methods.
Whilst being aware of these limitations, I’ll share here a small part of what is convincing me that Christianity needs the ‘green specs’ that folk have expected to see in my work, and maybe a bit more than was expected.
I noticed, as I have before, – but never gave it further thought-, that the ‘kingdom’ (‘basileia’) which many have preferred to call ‘reign’, in Matthew’s Gospel (alone) is mentioned a remarkable 32 (!!!) times as the ‘kingdom of heaven’. Or the reign of ‘heaven’. The way heaven is ruled…. It is perfectly normal to make the leap to assume that the ‘Kingdom of God’ (approx 70+ occurrences in the New Testament ) is identical. In practice, few preachers ever notice or register the difference. That is accepted, but for now, I’m just looking at Matthew’s preference. (Matthew also does use Kingdom of God).
The other principle which is not just my own, but observable wherever people are doing theology in the light of the Climate Crisis, could, I suppose, be described as a ‘reconcretisation of metaphor’. An overwhelming majority of the ‘images’ in Biblical language are rather more firmly grounded in the experiential than we have allowed for. If we read of Jesus suggesting ‘look at the birds’, have we actually looked at the birds? If we read his advice to look and learn from ‘all the trees’. The climate crisis is the death of abstract metaphor. Creation literally groans. Stones shout. Science, as the codification of experience, is our ‘universal translator’ of the prophetic witness of Creation. Though again, such things are not limited to the formal.
The ivory tower of the abstract theologian is exchanged for an immersion in the threatened cycles of nature.
And having noted that our use of the word ‘heaven’ tends to shunt our daily experience of the sky into a remote and abstract dimension, let’s just allow that the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ can be imagined as ‘the way the sky is ruled’. Which in the case of the very well-known phenomenon of the water cycle, is cyclic. A circular economy, as it were. What else is the background to Isaiah 55:10-11, when the ‘sky/heaven’ itself becomes a major player in the cyclic purposes of God, and not as a mere catalyst, but an active agent. Science has added to the water cycle, the carbon flux. And human activity is messing them both up royally.
Having ‘Got Creation Done’, (!!!) God is Sustainer, and the Way God ‘Rules’, is by ‘recycling.’ See also the previous blog post about the recycled God that we know as the Trinity., rather than as a vertically hierarchical single-use Boss-bird-and Junior . The dance of Creation, and of God, is a circle-dance. Let that sink in. And test it out against Jesus’ many stories of the kingdom, its order and even its apparent (relative) chaos.Continue reading →
After that gentle blog (above) about claiming the green, now something a wee bit heavier, but, I hope, all the more liberating.
Classic Christian teaching frequently seems difficult to defend, possibly because it’s culturally easy to dissociate it from the expression of love, rather than the oppressive rules of a hierarchy of some kind, whether supported by law and violence, or self-deceiving pretensions to definitive and final authority. Or that’s the way it looks from the outside. That’s even expected.
But this is the first ‘hermeneutical’ principle in this exploration: “love is why we teach it.”
Following from that, the fresh look that an ecochaplain is obliged to take, (on the fringes of a cultural context which prizes re-use/repair/re-purpose/recycle as a prominent ethical value-cluster,) frequently ends up as an affirmation of Christian mainstream.
It’s nice that you’re often surprised. I’d prefer ‘delighted’. But hey….
One area of ‘marginalised orthodoxy’, (which probably sounds like a complete oxymoron to those whose experience of ‘orthodox’ goes with oppressive lovelessness), is the most distinctive teaching of Christianity, the idea of God as Holy Trinity.
The grotesque hierarchical depictions of the Holy Trinity which so totally negate the idea of the equal persons of the Creative Unity as to be characterised as ‘Spot the Pigeon’ (I’m quoting the most memorable bit of lectures by Prof Sara Coakley in Oxford in the early 90s) or ‘The Boss, the Bird, and the Junior’. (see above, Cologne Cathedral)
These depictions (or, strictly, what they imply) drive a coach and horses over the affirmation that the definitive and exemplary nature of God, as shown through Jesus, is as persons lovingly “coequal, coeternal, and consubstantial” .(Nicene Creed, some versions).
These pictures are markedly in contrast with the ‘Celtic Trinity ‘symbol, the ‘triquetra’ in which the three components form an ever-interlacing knot. Tellingly, this appears on notice-boards for recycling stations, (see above) and for a while, was adopted by DEFRA.
(I wrote to DEFRA at the time, disingenuously asking if they intended to use any other religious symbols on their letterheads. They wrote back, claiming they had no such intention).
In the Triquetra Trinity, the Three are equal, connected, dependent, distinct. It saves pages of theology. (And I have it tattooed on my shoulder, not that you need to know that).
It’s been in devotional use by Christians for a good 1400 years, and used by other faiths before and since.
I’d like to see a really convincing argument (and I don’t think there is one) to suggest that the feudal system, whose remnants we still cherish, has not skewed Christian devotional language in favour of kingship rather than any other model of leadership, and kings, having been absolute authorities, didn’t fit at all with the fundamentally collaborative Trinity.
And since, in the Old Testament, God is, demonstrably, far more a reshaper and recycler than Creator out of absolutely nothing, perhaps Christians need to recognise a greater holiness and dignity in ‘making all things new’ rather than ‘making new things.’ In all aspects of life and faith.
The ‘Boss, bird and junior’, which, staggeringly, often passes by unchallenged in our churches, is by contrast a ‘single-use model of God, allied to ecological devastation because it prioritises domination rather than (costly) partnership.
It sees no need to collaborate, or rethink, only to be obeyed. Vertical hierarchy, rather than collaboration, is a game of extinction. Unenriched by trinitarian theodiversity. Ever only upwards, like the idolatry of unlimited economic growth, which never pauses and re-makes.
And that’s not how to be Christlike. Not the model of the one who came that we should have life in abundance, and joy in fullnesss.
My hope is in the recycling and recycled God. Who calls us out to be recycled, repurposed, reinvigorated too.
Our world reflects what we believe.
Yep, it matters, this theology game.Continue reading →
Claim it for Green: rejoice in the ‘ordinary’.
(illustration: the lower part of my EcoChaplain stole #2
Many of the churches and chapels ( or however they identified themselves ) where I preached in training and in the earlier years of my ministry were enriched with pulpit drops/falls, of which some bore the legend, often in ornate and therefore barely legible script “IHS”. It had taken me a few years to identify this ‘Christogram’ as”IHS” or “IHC”, denoting the first three letters of the Greek name of Jesus, ΙΗΣΟΥΣ, iota-eta-sigma, or ΙΗΣ.
In the meantime, other worshippers, noting that it was a more or less permanent part of a worship space, had found other interpretations, which served them well enough: “In HIs Steps” was pretty postive, “I Have Suffered”, maybe requiring a bit more thought. Some of the dictionary definitions , whilst trying to sound authoritative, were no more accurate or worthwhile.
I was fortunate, in an English free-church background to encounter the beautiful game of liturgical colours. (My tradition is one which is open to take or to leave as contextually appropriate, the repertoire of world Christianity.) Rev Murdoch MacKenzie, one of my mentors when I was new to Christian commitment, brought such things through from his work with the Church of South India. . For some of you liturgical colours in the churches are is less of an ‘option’, but a level of creative spiritual interpretation might nonetheless be in order. (And a bit of fun, which keeps us going).
If you have just entered what might, a touch boringly, be described as ‘ordinary time’ when green is the colour that pops out of the cupboard and onto the tables, altars, pulpits and stoles, perhaps give some thought to the scope it gives for environmental storytelling:
A standard web search (or a delve in an encyclopaedia) will come up with something like “a colour of growth”, but green is of course, the colour of chlorophyll, the truly miraculous substance that enables most plants to pull CO2 out of the atmosphere and produce oxygen. It’s the colour of natural carbon capture, of the breathing of the Earth, of hope as green shoots emerge after a bushfire, of health, as science catches up with the obvious insight that immersion in ‘green pastures’ restores the soul”…. I hope you yourselves could and will go on and on: how about one creative interpretation (for a spare space in the pew sheet) every week? “Look at …all the trees,” says Jesus… Green as the colour of awareness….
Or, when the time comes to commission some new vestment or item of furniture, give some thought to the environmental story it could be telling.
I know that even the word ‘ordinary’ has other origins, but it is in our creative use of the ordinary, mainstream gifts of the Churches that change of mind, heart, and conviction about our place and purpose as Church at this time is consolidated.
If your church or your worship leader is adorned with green, pick it up and run with it.
As ever…. get on with it!Continue reading →
(Image: preparation for leading worship on Palm Sunday (dressed in camouflage) in Iona Abbey last year)
Hypocrites anonymous – further thoughts: a treasure in plain sight
From the start of my calling to be EcoChaplain, I’ve enjoyed the experience of ‘bells ringing’ – things which seem very familiar shining out with significance and meaning for the age we’re in.
This one’s quite personal, given my involvement with the Iona Community for more than thirty years, however, I’m grateful for any such gift, and it’s a reminder of how great are the existing treasures of our faith and traditions.
Last night I managed to attend my local Iona Community Family group, sharing in the distinctive ‘office’ of prayer which links those in the movement and is used daily in Iona Abbey.
Following on from the previous post’s acknowledgment about the need to acknowledge our damagedness, and the fact of everyone being, to some extent, compromised and complicit, I found the ‘responsive’ prayer of confession rather helpful, in that the gathered community acknowledges and prays for the moral frailty of the leader of worship, stained with the involvement of their own people, rather than meekly receiving their leadership as they might that of an isolated spotless saint.
This way, the leader is “exemplary” only in that they start from the same place as the people.
(Leadership is good, even to the extent that dictatorship – or unwise and incompetent leadership – is bad. (Read through the first few chapters of Isaiah, incidentally, and you might see the point).
Whilst the Iona Community has not yet got round to reviewing the anthropomorphic version of the quote from Psalm 24 (the world belongs to God/the earth and all its people) which, in due course might be more creative in pronoun (from “it” to “her” or “their”) and inclusive in subject (creatures, dwells, or those the earth ‘harbours’) maybe even more crucially, it is good already to offer this prayer both of confession, and recognition that the persistence hopelessness and worthlessness are not a necessary consequence of the mess we may be in.
Before God, with the people of God
I confess to my brokenness:
to the ways I wound my life, the lives of others, and the life of the world
May God forgive you, Christ renew you,
And the Spirit enable you to grow in love.
Before God, with the people of God
we confess to my brokenness:
to the ways we wound our lives, the lives of others, and the life of the world
May God forgive you, Christ renew you,
And the Spirit enable you to grow in love.
Have a good day, whatever mess it starts in!Continue reading →