Category Archives: Chaplain Page

Be more snake

  Niceness is not enough.  It is, however - and consistently - deeply touching to encounter hospitality, willing listeners, and  even more, engaged storytellers among the communities that make up  Eco-Congregation Scotland. If you’re doing good things, they need to be actively shared and visible. There are some  very nice people in this movement, of which a recent academic report nonetheless noted both our slowness to change, and our disarming level of modesty about our achievements.  But Jesus, who leads us here, whilst he’s always about love,  - even for your enemies  - does not train disciples in a wishy-washy trample-all-over-us ‘nice’ approach to Good news, justice and freedom.   Indeed, as scholars have convincingly shown, even ‘turning the other cheek’ is a subversive strategy in the face of Empire.   In Matthew 10:16, where Jesus is knowingly sending his vulnerable apostles out into a devious and malicious society, obsessed by greed and the preservation of privilege and the injustice of the status quo, he instructs them to be as ‘innocent’ as pigeons (*or if you really insist, “doves”) but as crafty/wise as snakes (*if you’re fussy, not the poisonous type). The proverbial craftiness of snakes gives the nuance, abundantly clear elsewhere, that though it is not for followers of Jesus to do harm, they should have their wits about them at least as much as the devious people they are likely to encounter. And thus craftiness in pursuit of justice should be recognised as a Gospel virtue.  Disingenuousness is no part of the equipment of the disciples. Overall then,  particularly when dealing with what you know full well are weak or bogus arguments against your responses to the climate crisis:  you’ve likely done ‘dove’: now’s the time to  be more snake!


The first Bible study I was ever specifically asked  by a congregation to undertake was on the parable of the “Wasteful” Manager (Luke 16),  a famous parable of Jesus which may reasonably  command  our prayerful  attention whenever we seek support and funding for environmental  action.  

The Ladies’ Fellowship in my first church were scandalised by Jesus’ parable, and felt there must have been something wrong if Jesus himself was coming over so disreputably. How could ‘Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild’ come out with such dangerous stuff?

I certainly haven’t yet got to the bottom of it myself, ,though I’m sure that   this is going to be one of the most important Bible treasures to challenge and guide  our thinking in the coming years.

Concluding the narrative, Jesus advises the ‘Children  of the Light- with whom, as his followers, we might reasonably identify -  to learn from the craftiness of the surrounding culture. And to make use of ‘dishonest/unrighteous wealth’ to make friends with the [social or other ] environment they need to rely on.

Many assume that this  touches on  ‘selling your soul’: selling out,  ending  up promoting an agenda alien to your church, in order to access funding or favourable terms for premises or leased equipment.  

 Or, perhaps,  neglecting  the  values you profess  to stand for  in trivial but obvious ways:

Giving minor, but very real and all-too visible examples: Nestlé coffee in a declared fair-trade  church,  disposable plastic cups used on every  social occasion in a registered Eco-Congregation, or even  a denominational headquarters.  Being seen to back, without engagement or criticism, industries not yet mindful of the Paris targets..... 

This issue of integrity  is actually dealt with elsewhere, [Mark 8:36, Matthew 16:26]. But not here.

The story of the crafty manager is not about such things.   He  hasn’t got “that sort of soul  so it is never on sale.   It is his  alleged wastefulness, not corruption,  that sets in progress a chain of irreversible events.  He is given notice. 

Are we, globally, in a similar position?  The IPCC message of ‘Act now, idiots!’  has set a clock ticking which should concentrate our minds.

The wealth of his master is the “unrighteous” wealth with which he has to deal, and indeed, that’s where the corruption comes in: it’s what he is already charged with looking after, when, accepting the coming disaster of his destitution,  he realises he needs to engineer a comfortable transition.   

He is well equipped.

His job, and perhaps ours thus far, has been to be “Steward of Dishonest Wealth ”.  Propping up the system which exploits. And in this, his bargaining skills, his knowledge of market conditions, have prepared him for the uncertainties ahead.  The  realism of the  wheeler-dealer 

in him comes to the fore in bargaining and creative compromise as, neither solving nor fleeing the crisis, he makes friends with it.  Transforms it. 

Our wastefulness as a species, compounded by human injustice,  means that we are veering   towards environmental crisis. Even  1.5 degrees, the minimum  global  temperature rise which seems possible, will already involve dramatic changes in our lives. Not just those of future generations.  No participant in current society should deceive themselves that they are not contributing  to the climate crisis; none are squeaky-clean. So what can we do with the things within our grasp?  

How can we subvert  the  throwaway culture of inequality and endless growth  by making friends with the environment which has so  suffered from human sharp  practice, and on whose hospitality we all of us continue  to depend?

Advent Calendar – the slower path to Christmas

There's a lot of pressure on local churches to join the headlong dash to Christmas, and bypass the dark reflective journey of Advent, which, in many traditions, involves an immersion in thoughts and poetry written in and for times of crisis, or times when hope was at a premium. I'm thinking about following the Sunday lectionary through with images and thoughts from our 'green' perspective. A small initiative, and easy to follow... as well as gently reasserting our right, in this forthcoming season, not to be dictated to by Xmas cards or even some 'Christmas' films, how and what we should be considering.

“That’s the way it will be back home!” – Chaplain’s Blog

Matthew 13:51: 

Every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of their treasure what is new and what is old.”

Some years ago, I was at an international church gathering where  we were challenged by daily bible studies on neglected parts of Scripture.

These particular ‘treasures’  immersed us in  stories of violence and barely believable  injustice.

We batted ideas around, but it was noticeable  that one of our number, from Burma/Myanmar was very quiet.

Eventually, we were all longing to hear what he might have to say.  When he did speak, he silenced us all. “That’s the way it is back home….”

As I’ve begun to get my teeth into Eco-Chaplaincy,  at this  time of high drama in the news, with a growing awareness of the  urgency of action, so too, I’m rummaging around in the treasure-box of Christian scripture and tradition.

What is coming to light, is both  how widely Christianity is equipped for catastrophic times…. and how universally that equipment  is ignored, disregarded, ridiculed, or completely misunderstood.  With Advent in sight, when lectionaries and other traditions entertain apocalyptic Bible readings, these previously quaint or ornamental texts of turmoil are beginning to assert their relevance, with language full or environmental and political upheaval.

When visiting congregations, I’ve been very open, both about the seriously grim prospects for climate change, as well as looking for ways to say, with eyes wide open, and with integrity ‘Halleluyah anyway’.  As a movement,  we are certainly a work in progress, but with great potential in shaping the witness of the churches in a time of threat without precedent.  Because, without action, “that’s the way it’s going to be back home” … for our common home, the Earth.

love & peace,
Rev’d David J.M.Coleman