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:
May every family throughout God’s Earth: Hymn poem for Pentecost 5A
PDF downloadable on this page
(Genesis 12, 1 Kings 4, Matthew 6) tune: Glasgow: “CM with elaborations!”
1)May every family throughout God’s Earth
Be blessed as we praise God:
the birds of heaven, the forests’ kin
the beauteous, familiar and odd!
2)When meeting grant us wisdom, such
as Sol’mon gained as king:
how trees, fish, birds and bees and more
are honoured as we sing!
3)And beauty, more than kings command
Earth’s families wild and frail;
By Christ both scolded and extolled
the wind, the waves, prevail.
4) By kinship, heritage, and bonds of care
are families defined.
Diverse, mysterious, interlaced
in praise to God combined.
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Pentecost with a local church. Acts 2:1-21
Draft Sermon here, also downloadable as PDF at bottom of page
Now, if, in the next few minutes you’re inclined to think I’m drunk, the bad news is, I’m wide awake.
And I’ve never been more so. As a Christian minister, I am moreover in a far more intense relationship with Christian scriptures in the five years of this job of Environmental Chaplain than in my preceding quarter century of grassroots local church experience on which it’s firmly built.
As a visitor to many churches I need to assure you that my training and experience is not that of an ivory-tower specialist, but of everyday grassroots general practice Christianity, which aims, with love and integrity, to build up the hope and spiritual resilience of worshippers: not to be rulers and dictators, but rather as Jesus put it, light for the world, yeast in the dough, salt for the Earth: working together with others without watering down the particular treasure you are and that you have to offer.
The climate and nature crisis pushes us to be more rather than less reliant on our friendship with Christ the Word become Flesh; God incarnate in the Earth. We might enjoy playing at church, but wind-assisted by the Spirit at Pentecost, it’s a grown-up game. The game of Be more Church.
In these last few days, has come the additional reminder that whilst I’m still in this job, ( and maybe whilst Gillean is still with you), we’ll see things more dramatic than those days last summer when Scotland’s green hills turned brown overnight. Or the year before when Storm Arwen took out 16 million of our trees in one night. But we’re only just beginning to take notice, and there’s huge investment in place in all sorts of devious ways to try and make sure we don’t.
The entire budget of the Church of Scotland under discussion this last week is dwarfed by what’s invested to sow seed of doubt in this truth, or provide premature reassurance that all is clean and safe and we have time to sit back like the rich fool in Jesus’ parable.
My friends, it would be dishonest and unloving to suggest other than this: that we are well beyond the time of reasonable doubt that the increase in extremes and the impact on nature is caused by unjust choices of human societies.
Immediately, for those even passingly familiar with the writings of the prophets in the Bible, there’s a striking coherence in that human injustice goes together with environmental devastation in a way that, as I was growing up, most sensible sober people were content to write off as so much hot air, but which is spiritually coherent today. Inspired by the Spirit, Peter stands up in Jerusalem and talks prophets. They’re not absent from British and Scottish streets.
What do we want? – ask the climate protesters – not just the young and green , but the mature, sensible sober people of the churches-
What do we want? -Climate justice- When do we want it? Now!
And of course, for those with ears to hear and eyes to see, interpreted by the honesty of science – these voices add powerful authority and authentication to that call for justice.
Just as in some of the most frequently cited passages from those prophets, it’s the voices of nature, of groaning Earth, of the trees who breathe out what we breathe in; voices of the commonest birds in population free-fall and the cutest ones under sentence
-The gift of language is a two-edged sword: perhaps you get your point across to other creatures, who may be alien or foreign. But the danger is you may hear something which makes you move on too. That happens all the time to faithful Christians. Faith is not single-use, not throwaway. Faith is always recycled.
Aid agencies like Christian Aid and TearFund have moved on from a narrow focus on people alone because no economy can exist without dependence on what we used to think were merely beautiful and expendable, but turn out indispensable to our survival, as a species.
Christians- who are Christians no less than we are – elsewhere in the world are not hamstrung, by that brutal divide between the fate of humanity and nature. God’s Rainbow Covenant is with the Earth, with all flesh, not just Noah. Everything who has breath praises the God who sustains the unified Creation of sky and soil, Heaven and Earth.
Whatever the fault, the fate is shared. And that is why the ‘Loss and Damage’ message of Christian Aid is completely coherent: for polluter countries such as ours to invest in helping fellow people and creatures respond to the impact of what the global north chooses to cause is an investment in our own wellbeing as creatures of God’s same Earth.
Within each human society are further nested injustices: you can’t ask those on lowest incomes to eat more sustainably, insulate their houses, install heat pumps and drive electric cars when laws and regulations perpetuate inequality. Do you think, before you vote, what might change this? And do you send messages of support to your leaders when they get it right? Salt, light, yeast. That’s what you’re here for.
Because you can’t blame the poor for having children, when it has been shown that the education and empowerment of women and attending to poverty lead to a rapidly falling birth rate and progress with greenhouse gas emissions.
Be inspired not with the paralysis of guilt, but the energy of responsibility, and the joyful liberation of the truth that even in a small and easy way, each of us can choose a different direction.
There’s a lot of talk about ‘making a difference’ and at a local level, I have seen that in litter-picks, beach-cleans, insulation projects, reducing waste, and other things which have brought joy and deepens faith to the communities involved. ‘Making a difference’ is not a con-trick. But it needs con-text. I have not saved the world by changing all my lightbulbs to LED, even if I have saved myself money by doing so. And encouraged myself and others. Because as Jesus said: if you do good stuff, shout about it, to the glory of God.
But I have the advantage that speaking to you and to other churches, I’m with communities who value and trust the practice of prayer: we offer a small commitment from our hearts, without requiring the authentication of laboratory conditions, and trust in the grace of God that God will make of it what is good for the Earth. That too is the Great Commission of the Risen Christ, to bring good news to every creature, though even that was suppressed in my own mainstream training for ministry.
I also know that in the last few years, some of the messages promoted about response to the climate crisis have been naive and misleading. Shell was forced to withdraw a campaign which suggested you can ‘drive carbon neutral’ by burning their petrol. A couple of weeks ago I heard about enthusiasm for ‘decarbonising’ the oil and gas industry. This refers to reducing the ten million tons of CO2 sloppily released in production, and has nothing to do with reducing the burning of oil and gas as a final product. Greenwashing ‘ is a major anaesthetic industry. Sleep well!
The earliest of Christian hymns includes the line “wake up sleeper”. Because people who are not drunk but wide awake take notice: they see what’s heading their way, and cope with the roughness of the path so full of stumbling-blocks. Karl Marx described religion as the ‘opium of the people’ – as an addictive anaesthetic.
For some, that’s what it is. Keeping your head down and hoping it will see you out. And other realities block our horizon. The cost of living – war in Ukraine – both of which are deeply connected with the choice to continue making war on the Earth on whom we depend.
So after the experience of the wind and power and unexpected communication, which are so extreme as to lead some to conclude that the church is intoxicated, Peter stands up and begins to recycle and repurpose those Holy Scriptures which the global Jewish Community had been reverently preserving and rehearsing.
He lovingly and respectfully takes the things which define them as a faith community and finds something serious and relevant for there and then. It’s a dangerous strategem. Jesus himself nearly got thrown off a cliff for suggesting to people that the spiritual resources of their faith were to be taken seriously. They are. Because time has caught up with us as hearers. It’s time to be livers.
An awareness of the climate-and-nature crises has a bearing on how we perceive time: is it, as Jesus suggests in the way he begins the prayers recorded in the Gospels, time to get on with things. Time to take seriously the protests of the young and the worries of the aged? Globally, and also throughout the world church? Those visions and dreams in which God includes all of us, and in which I believe it’s time to include voices and rights beyond our own species.
What sort of deadlines hang over us? And should or do deadlines change the way we act and think? And what if we don’t? What if we sit back like the builder of the house on the sand, who just like the builder of the house on the rock could not change the climate, but took no notice and made no changes to their plans?
Do we dig in to a story of ‘everything’s going to be all right’ and ‘God’s in charge so we don’t need to worry’ or are we going to take that catalogue of disasters and warnings and even ultimatums we call the Bible seriously, because it also offers ways of encountering and responding to threat and turmoil, and even, in the most defining Christian festival of Easter, a promise of hope beyond that point that the disciples were sure was ‘too late’. At the crucifixion, the disciples were sure “that was that”. Were they wrong? I don’t think they were.
But despair – even justified, rational despair, turned out not to be the only story. And that, my friends is why, given what I’ve read, what I’ve heard from friends around the world whose homelands are already in crisis with rising of sea-levels, the disruption of animal and bird migration and of growing seasons for crops, given what I heard at COP26 in Glasgow from the scientists and their final jigsaw pieces of cause and effect between the way we live and what’s happening to the planet, the oceans, the ice-caps and more, and finally, given Jesus’ intoxicated(?) call not to worry about tomorrow, is how I keep going. And keep finding hope in the responses of churches.
Jesus says truth sets us free. And the truth is, that by any stretch of the imagination, we are in one version of the last days of the way the world has been. No great surprise if we listen carefully to the promise made by Jesus at his resurrection: I will be with you every day until the end of the age. That’s a good deal, a great deal, full of grace and help and solidarity, though what it absolutely is not, is a promise of open-mindedness or an assurance of indestructibility of the home we share. But I believe it’s also a promise of solidarity in transition. The best deal going.
That Day in Jerusalem was not the first or only time it’s right to think of the “last” days. But
young ministers are still taught that in the face of the world stubbornly refusing absolutely to end, you find a way of ignoring it.
I think we should be – because the writers of scripture are – a lot more realistic and a lot more creative than that.
In times of crisis, the best way to live out our faith is as if each day is our last. To make different decisions, open up different futures. Nothing to lose, except perhaps that story of the end of the church in despair and irrelevance. Do not worry about tomorrow. Get on with it now!Continue reading →
Sheep may safely generate…..
Four years ago, just to begin to gain background in what wider society was up to, I attended a huge trade fair at the Scottish Exhibition Centre – later to be the location for COP26 – a life-changing and affirming experience in terms of the input from science and the indigenous groups present.
After a lockdown break, the 2023 version of ‘All-Energy and Dcarbonise’ has certainly evolved: battery storage has made it into the logos and graphics, the level of self-characterisation of Shell and BP as environmentally concerned and life-enhancing forces of nature has if anything accelerated. And they give you a nice cup of coffee on their stand…. But as a visitor from Nature Scot also remarked, it is very expensive to actually exhibit here at all, which itself will shape the impression it gives. The youngish men in a particular sort of navy suit and the slightly older skinheads in slightly posher suits predominate. A vibrant digital billboard enthuses about the urgent need for more women in all the industries, at all levels. Not there yet! But a walk through the exhibition halls continues to startle. Finding out what you might not have thought.
Almost every unreflective knee-jerk objection to sustainable energy technology you’ve every heard is accommodated with the ingenuity of late capitalism: from safety equipment for maintaining and refurbishing elderly turbines, and a growing number of companies extending their initially expected life. 70% of a turbine’s materials are directly and unproblematically recyclable, it seems. There’s a robot cleaner for solar arrays, and an integration with advanced weather forecasts and patterns in planning of backup storage and operation of wind farms. Even the pinch-point practicalities of transporting a new generation of improbably large blades for turbines whose height which will dwarf the Eiffel Tower. And Scotland is where these things can happen. Lots and lots and lots of them, onshore, offshore, wherever …. We have the wind, the land – though not on the new national parks we’re looking forward to, following the encouragements around COP27.
Green groups in churches may find a bit of research pays dividends in dealing with the harmful misinformation of the local church climate denier: listen first to their objections (“wind doesn’t blow all the time etc etc”) then look up what’s really happening, because people who invest tens of millions in a project will be looking before they leap. And as churches might note: being able to point to real benefits for biodiversity gives far more public credibility and is a better investment than the ludicrously glossy greenwashing that convinces no one with their head screwed on. But that too is an industry in its own right.
Triodos Bank, who so often come high up the lists of ethical finance, was there, alongside all sorts of financial and legal advisers. You’re reminded how vital planning and planning regimes are to the whole project of just transition.
And how much difference your encouragement makes to politicians and authorities who know where they should be heading but lack the courage to set out. The new First Minister came and talked hydrogen, and the Minister for Energy paid tribute to the value that oil and gas had added to the high-carbon economy, looking for those skills to ‘drive’ a just transition. There was also a very reassuring commitment to democracy amongst all speakers I heard, – alongside impatience with time-wasters who simply object because turbines are involved. And there is hope for different ‘solutions’ from those which seemed the only way just a few years ago: the grazing land which it is claimed is fit only for sheep can accommodate turbines and maybe even solar too – alongside the sheep – rather than being monopolised by questionable and exclusive tree-planting, which is a carbon liability on deeper peat soils. It’s clear we haven’t seen the last of the highly ‘productive’ species that raise some naturalist hackles. But disconnected monoclture, without connectivity between biodiverse habitats may have had its day?
…And so much more, with a whole lot of hydrogen going on, though everyone really wants their hydrogen to be thought ‘green’ ( primarily via electrolysis, eg with spare capacity from turbines. even sea-water might be used) rather than the counterproductive ‘blue’ hydrogen from fossil fuels, to which no one is going to own up. Teslas gleam in the midst of it all. In talks, we hear about the prospects for district heating based on ‘waste’ heat from the mushrooming data-centres, of a genuine and mixed -motive trickle of re-useable skills from offshore oil and gas to sustainable sectors. We hear why asking for ‘just one thing to change’ is a wrong-headed question when “everything all at once everywhere” needs transformation. Can the resources needed for warm homes be medically prescribed, so decarbonisation does not simply create a widening gap between those who ‘can afford to pay less’ and vulnerable victims of high energy prices with no insulation or scope for investment in a heat pump.
There are new ubiquitous words and exciting prospects: ‘re-powering’ = upgrading a 1 or 2 megawatt turbine on an existing site to 6 megawatts. And perhaps most encouraging of all, a very serious need at least to be seen to be ‘Nature Positive’ alongside, where possible, ‘carbon neutral’. New planning guidelines take the cause of nature into account, which shapes decisions and planning . After the development of previous projects, there’s now clear evidence of the viability of a mixed-use landscape: with power generation, conservation, farming, forestry and peat restoration weaving together. The widely misunderstood Darwinian virtue of collaboration in a habitat and environment gives cut-throat competition a run for its money. And there’s a keener grasp of the sheer urgency of the climate crises than I’ve seen in most church circles. A straightforward acceptance of Net-Zero as a destination, with amazement and delight that the churches might be heading down that particular road. How is it that Christians are making such heavy weather of even getting started? If a power company can employ an ecologist, could the churches, collectively manage something similar in the management of the glebes, gardens and churchyards still under their care?
Everyone’s persona non grata? This has to be the National Grid, connection timetables to which for new energy facilities stretch painfully towards the target range of 2035 for the decarbonisation of all electricity in the UK. There is ‘no transition without transmission’ !!!
So a blessing, though a mixed one. Don’t underestimate industry’s eagerness in all the ‘at speed, at scale, driving, delivering, to stakeholders”, though there’s a gaping hole in the scope for reaching out to hearts as well as minds.
That’s what we’re here for, isn’t it?Continue reading →
By Faith Alone. By Scripture Alone. By Grace Alone. By Results? Or just by context: “the way that you do it”. “Thus”: is a really frequent adverb in the New Testament.
Maybe it’s time to examine one of the most tyrannical and dangerous weapons of the English language in our age: “Making A Difference”. If we can be said and seen to ‘make a difference’, we feel warm inside valued, valuable. The fear that we might not lurks in wait for a project like EcoCongregation Scotland. But who is our audience, and who do we feel needs to be? “Alms” given in secret (Matthew 6:1-4) are acknowledged – and rewarded – by God, who gets the credit. Win win!
And yet this is not a prohibition on visible practice of just living, but rather a severe caveat on the prime motivation. There will be a mix of other motivations, taking off the shine, perhaps, though neither invalidating that justice, nor offering any pious excuse for abstaining. Never wait until you’re perfect before getting on with what’s urgent. It would be a long, long wait. And climate emergency does not allow ‘long’ for anything. The hungry may be fed by ostentatious self-seeking, but – tragically- (?) the ostentatious self-seeker gains nothing. Given the forthrightness of the teaching in the Sermon on the Mount – though conscious of urgency – I can’t but feel that a premature counsel of perfection here risks the whole project. The ‘different’ points of view in Jesus’ teaching (-be secret/be seen-) are side by side, in their strength and vigour, rather than modifying and minimising each other.
So I don’t want to speak of ‘grey areas’ which suggest general boring dilution, but rather ‘rainbow areas’: realistically, our motivations will cover a spectrum, of which, according to prevailing conditions some are more prominent and visible. Some come and go. What matters is the overall project of the “glorification” of God who “loves the World”. You don’t buy your vegan friend a beef burger. And unless you’re an unduly prescriptive parent, your child’s birthday is the occasion for delight rather than just utilitarian ‘need’. So in devotional practice, you don’t offer things, however valuable, with unjust origins or significant harm for fellow creatures and their habitats. Bring God a cup of tea!
As also, in the high-profile good deeds which certainly do Make A Difference a few verses earlier in Matthew: when our own light shines the way it ought to, God is glorified. (Matt 5:16). And still we shine. And so we should. Without embarrassment, guilt, complacency, or looking down on others. We are – in following Christ – Earth- Illumination. Hallelujah! That’s “the way” EcoCongregation awards should work. Do good stuff and shout about it!
We’ve made a difference. The sacrificial efforts we offered were meaningful and worthwhile. Not futile or foolish. Making a difference is the reward of right living. And the currency that reward comes in does not need to be financial. Indeed, though we often look for it to be objectively measurable, a ‘feeling’ may be adequate. Our ‘hearts’ seem to be more determinative of change, of “ecological conversion” [quoting Laudato Si] than our ‘heads’, though neither could function without the other. Provided we have enough to eat and drink, being paid for work pales into insignificance beside having ‘Made A Difference’, and I have myself been sustained by that reassurance. Ten years of EcoChaplaincy, though very difficult to measure, seems to have ‘Made A Difference’ to the Scottish churches, to the extent that a further five years are now – partially – underwritten. We feel a need to be seen to be Making A Difference, which does influence the balance of decisions about how time, personal energy and other scarce resources are shared out. Fair enough. And I don’t think we’re going to do without ‘Making A Difference”. Even the somewhat macho prayer of Ignatius so frequently and dangerously half-quoted (…to toil and not seek for rest!!!) seeks out substantial currencies of M.A.D: “to labour and not to ask for any reward, save that of knowing that we do your will. “Knowing” that we do God’s will? That’s huge! Extreme! I’ve only ever been able to trust that I might… Make A Difference. In Climate emergency, in agreement with the Reformers in whose tradition I stand, I can see that, globally speaking a reliance on my own ‘works-righteousness’ is so pathetically and annihilatingly insignificant that the reliance on and participation in grace – the Difference God Makes – is my only hope. For meaning. For validation.
M. A.D. We rely on it so much. And yet M.A.D. is also a low-key relative of the seductive need for control. To be God, rather than work with God. Net-Zero campaigns thus far tend to lean on the feasibly ‘measurable’ side, which gives them a useful mission prominence. Boxes ticked garner M.A.D points, and we welcome this because it is integrally part of the whole project of Christian, practical, local, global, spiritual living, as we, individual members are part of the Body. Diminished or disabled, where the member, neither expendable nor replaceable, becomes disconnected, but what is it without which everything really does fall apart? Just as Heaven and Earth are a unified, interwoven Creation, this can’t be one isolated thing. Goodness is always in relation. Cask-strength whisky needs water to be the Water of Life!
Make A Difference. So that everything else can too.
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A Treehugger Bible?
On my bookshelf is the ‘Green Bible’. Multiple verses of what is otherwise a New Revised Standard Version are highlighted in green ink which (ironically?) makes them more difficult to read. What we don’t have, and what I’m finally persuaded to wish for dream of – maybe even pray for – is something altogether more daring, fun and useful namely ‘A Treehugger’s Bible’.
Plenty of us in the churches – locally and globally – are deeply engaged in the project of discovering what it means to be the Church in a time of acceleratingly urgent climate crisis (and of course, so many other concurrent crises too) specifically as the result of the unjust actions of human cultures, which are now, with complete knowingness, and unprecedented momentum, proceeding to an equally unprecedented catalogue of catastrophe. Churches will not stop or solve these threats, though we have a place, perhaps especially with other people of faith, in the encouragement of spiritual resilience, by grace to face with hope, the wildfires already burning.
The Signs of the Times are primarily those of an emergency: where the standard rules of procedure require some abrupt rethinking in order that our life, work and worship be responsive -always reliant on the Holy Spirit – to the pace of changes beyond our control; that we may at least participate in and raise the prospect of healing, and of a hope-shaped vision for the futures that really do lie before us.
One of our most severe handicaps, as Christian thinkers, is the tendency for what is dominant to become blindingly definitive. Thus, my own formal qualifications in what I have to recognise as western/global north/ straight/male/anthropocentric/academic/enlightenment-intimidated/colonialist/capitalist theology are on paper completely “un-qualified’ as mere ‘theology’. To that’ of course, I add three contextual decades of preaching, of wrestling with scripture and caring for and being cared for by congregations, of which the last five years, as EcoChaplain, have been the most intense of all. And, I have to add – and this with the utmost seriousness – the most fun! And one of the most joyful of all insights has been the liberative permission the crises impart, to celebrate David Bosch’s maxim that we are always ’Christopagans’. Purity is never on offer. The Word is Always Interpreted. Get used to it and thank God with all your heart and mind and soul. Be suspicious only of any ‘final’ version, however wise, erudite or sincere its origins.
Digital resources have long presented every student and/or practitioner in Christian ministry with a smorgasbord of voices, approaches and agendas with regard to the presentation of Scripture, both in English-( or other modern)language versions and of course the commentaries that support earnest study. We benefit from an undeserved magical overview of the blood sweat and tears of countless scholars and poets of widely differing stables.
I’ll say right now, it is no part of my intention to impugn any of these, except perhaps that the dogmatic exclusivism of the language chosen by such as the ESV (for me, the Extremely Sexist Version) should not have been accepted into the repertoire without a health warning as exemplifying the retrograde steps that a late modern translation should have known better than to take. Other versions are almost invariably inclusive in intent. I know that the Good News Version’s intended ease of reading enabled my (double graduate) mother to begin once more to read the Bible, though the GNB’s alarming modesty with regard to the Great Commission of the Risen Christ in Mark 16:15 from ‘all Creation’ to ‘all people’ needs to be seen and wondered at, as part of our education in seeing anthropocentricism at work. The brutal anthroposummism (humans as ‘pinnacle’) of some relatively recent versions – where, bullied by Enlightenment priorities, the personalities of the Earth and creatures are obscured by objectification and every non-human ‘who’ becomes an ‘it’ – are likewise valuable as in them we learn to spot the slants and discern not “how to do without them”, but rather, which slant and what bias might be appropriate for our time and place.
Of course, as social policy will build on the peer-reviewed science of the IPCC, a pastoral use of scripture will build -heavily- on the cultural and linguistic archaeology scholarship can provide, though even the most technically perfect linguistic equivalence with historical footnotes will stop far short of ‘the Word of God’. So: Recyle, Repurpose…..Discern! Nothing of value is single-use: neither prophecy nor our beloved Christian cultures.
‘King James’, ‘Martin Luther’ and many others will therefore continue to inform our insights, but neither of those were at all aiming at presenting or preserving living Scripture as any sort of antique. I wish it were either of their introductions rather than Richard Wagner (!) who had said “Kids, do new stuff!” but I believe that sentiment belongs with the best resources from any age. I’m writing this a day or so after having witnessed the puzzling archaism of almost all the language of the Coronation service. Illuminated, amplified and broadcast by electricity, ‘thee and thou’ nonetheless erected barriers not of mystery but of puzzlement and obscurity in a project otherwise characterised by many welcome nods towards the integrity of inclusivity. Beauty is certainly a legitimate aim, though it’s a counsel of despair to suggest that no living poet could be enlisted to convey spiritual truths in an idiom responsive to our global context. Or, to translate Luther himself, to ‘look the people in the gob!’.
As I began this work as Environmental Chaplain, articles were written suggesting that it would be about the church donning ‘green specs’. I hope I have since refuted any such claim, at least to the extent that it implies looking other than honestly and closely at what’s actually there. From week to week, I’m not crowbarring green stuff into our experience of Scripture but turning up genuine treasures in the field of even the most familiar scripture, some of them long buried under strata of embarrassment, fear of the ‘wild’ or thick layers of obsolete but assertive ‘common sense’ . Climate Emergency, like that blazing yet clearly not flameproof bush, which tore a shepherd from his work ‘beyond the wilderness’, opens up permission to think in ways we thought we really shouldn’t. Discerning the participation of fellow creatures of all kinds, and especially our beloved Earth, in the stories which speak to our need to respond. As the mountains hold human justice to account in Micah, so too the wind and waves receive the personal rebuke of Christ in the Gospels: the rebuke that heals and saves lives. Good News is so frequently a warning or even an ultimatum delivered in love.
Just as “the last thing we need right now” is yet another denominational brand of Church, rather than to repurpose such treasures as by God’s grace, our respective churches already represent, so perhaps ‘the last thing we need‘ is another ‘version’ of the Bible saying ‘this is the way it has to be!’ And yet we need the freedom as pastoral interpreters for communities, to go – though strictly only where vocation leads – beyond the conscientiuously expected idiom of our received versions.
Most formally trained local leaders in most denominations are already in a position to do something like this, though on a spectrum of hesitant, through nervous, to terrified, to give it a go. Maybe there’s that fear of being thought arrogant, though isn’t it also rightful humility to risk falling flat on your face for the Gospel? I suspect that the discernment of a committed group might be more valuable than any individual. A fellowship called lovingly to play with presenting such scripture as might be offered to congregations or study groups with an open bias and slant which allows “heaven” once more to be recognised as ‘Sky’; for Jesus to be in fellowship with the ‘wildlife’ whose habitat is wilderness; which gives Earth the dignity of a capital letter, and yet rejoices to leave things be when we find in existing versions how Sabbath and Jubilee are given for the benefit of Earth and of Wildlife .
A hermeneutic of joyful suspicious recycling towards an inclusion of all Creation might enable a group of friends to present at least snapshots of a ‘Treehugger Bible’, reconnecting God’s people with the experiential, terrestrial and pedestrian inspiration of Bible writers overlayered by the serious and scrupulous propriety which sometimes shies away even from owning the drunkenness of the wedding guests at Cana.
I wonder if the Season of Creation, with its limited number of mostly very familiar lectionary texts, might in a future year be an opportunity to make the first steps with such a project – making abundantly clear that definitiveness is no part of our aspiration, though honesty about our commitment – our bias, if you will – would never be obscured. An organic delight, which risks, but does not seek, ridicule, created by joyful, hopeful fools for Christ the Tree of Life. A Treehugger Bible. To God’s glory, the good of the Earth.Continue reading →