Welcome to the Environmental Chaplain’s blog – a new page where Rev’d David Coleman shares his thoughts and reflections.
- Home by another Way – Advent after COP
An alternative, ecumenical, international, environmental, Advent Calendar
Posts will be added throughout the season, starting with Advent Sunday: 28th November,
All videos are readily downloadable via Vimeo.: This page may be a day ahead, for technical reasons
Day 7: The Trees are alert:
Day 6: Redeeming ‘Redemption’
Day 5: 2nd December: Hope in Apocalypse
Day 4:1st December :Nations in turmoil over climate crisis. Opening Filmed in a ‘Plenary Hall’ at COP
Day 3: 30th November: The sustainable community
Day 2: 29th November: Don’t look away
Day 1: 28th November :The Branch of Justice
Day 8: 5th December: Cleaning up our act
Day 9: 6th December: What we need to know
Day 10:7th December: Love overflowing
Day 11: 8th December: What is wilderness?
Day 12:9th December: Location and message
Day 13: 10th December: Transforming the landscape
Day 14: 11th December: A life-inclusive promise
Day 15: 12th December: Responsibility for disaster
Day 16: 13th December : the shame and the lame
Day 17: 14th December: The Water of Life
Day 18: 15th December: The welcome for snakes
Day 19: 16th December: The right trees in the right place
Day 20: 17th December: Give us resources!
Day 21:18th December: Winnowing!
Day 22: 19th December: Generations to come
Day 23: 20th December: The scattered proud
Day 24: 21st December : Word from the people who walk in darkness
Day 25: 22nd December : as people rejoice when dividing plunder
Day 26: 23rd December: No room at the inn
Day 27: Christmas Eve: Mangerside reportContinue reading →
- Prayer after COP
Dear God of before and during and after;
God, Sustainer, Christ the Servant
from the beginning choosing
partnership with Earth, whom you made;
We thank you for the togetherness;
for the joy of protestors and prophets
the persistence of those who prayed.
We thank you as those who have found new answers
to the question of who, or what
might be my neighbour.
We thank you, with eyes wide open
to the unabated urgency of change
in all those ways of rich and powerful people
and the exploitative philosophies
that upstage and pull rank
over mere faith and hope and love.
We thank you for
the green and ancient wisdom
of Bible, people, Earth and Spirit
which still cares as for family
for fellow creatures…
because they are!
(And worshippers as well!)
We thank you for all the missing pieces
coming to light
of our interwovenness and dependence
on what we thought was merely beautiful
and therefore expendable
though beauty should have been enough.
Yet remembering the last laugh of the Cross
echoing through the empty tomb
We set aside the stifling worry of tomorrow
to deal with what we’re up to eyes in today.
And since the problems are not simply solved.
by nations and by leaders,
we find, refreshed, our place and purpose valued;
our small commitment blessed.
And paths of justice bright for all to see
with this new day of many.
AMENContinue reading →
- To whom am I neighbour?
To whom am I neighbour?
There may have been a time when Christian committed to social justice tended to drift away from deeper involvement in the core of our faith.
Such a time is now long gone. Now it’s entirely the opposite. The climate crisis calls the bluff of every part of every faith tradition, and COP has brought us wonderfully closer in purpose – and without compromise – the other faith groups with whom we shared prayer and campaigning statements on the Sunday before the conference got going.
Yesterday was the ‘gender’ themed day in the UN Climate Conference , when all the undeniable scientific and statistical evidence was there in your face that the marginalisation, exclusion and condescension to women, children, and the indigenous peoples of the Earth who live close to God’s Creation, is a dire and manifest liability. Injustice – as the prophets prayed and hoped – always does come back to bite the unjust in the bum. The well-meaning suspicion that the empowerment and education of women was a climate plus is now well-established.
There is also a place for prayers such as Psalm 25:2 (pulling no punches)
Let none who look to you be put to shame;
let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes.
The schemes of those who betray Creation, need, in the deepest love, to be frustrated. And the expensive greenwashing which is also on show here, does begin to look quite ridiculous. All of it is called out, all the time, in the presentations in the pavilions of the nations and NGOs
There are a number of get-used-to-it tipping points ahead for those of us in the ( British.. Scottish…) churches who might be squeamish, both about anything that ‘looks political’ or which is labelled ‘feminist’ .
The UN is taking the empowerment and education of women and girls with an unprecedented seriousness, which does not allow for the separation of climate justice and gender justice. A concern with inclusion in language and other modes of the expression is the churches is no longer – if it ever was- a fad or a marginal matter. The Good News is for all. All Creation and All People, without reservation. Can we say we are praising God if we restrict membership of the choir?
In the same sort of way, all the missing jigsaw pieces are being found under the sofa — whales were once seen simply as a mineral resource. It helped that some recognised their beauty, majesty. Science is now adding, with authority, how indispensable is their place in the cycles of carbon and oxygen. To hound a species to extinction is, objectively, to hasten our own.
But beauty alone should be more than enough. Please don’t forget that. it’s just that the ‘economic’ counter-arguments are falling apart.
So blessing is to be sought in solidarity with and creative listening to those for whom the most consistent message of my ministry as chaplain – that the Earth is not ‘it’ but ‘who’ – is not only “nothing new”, but self-explanatory.
Indeed, the strongest terms in which I have ever expressed that treasure of our faith, have this week begin to look decidedly half-hearted.
And this chastening comes more often than not, not from elders and hoary old COP regulars, but young indigenous women, who, without artifice, take your breath away.
“We are not “part “ of nature. We ARE nature”
“I was writing a job application, and spoke in it of my animal relatives. My father became terribly anxious and said “you must never dare tell that truth to the others: they will make you suffer for it”
And when asked to introduce themselves, they did so in terms of the animals that breed or the fish that migrate in the places which their families may never professed to “own” in terms of title deeds, but where they have come to know and claim the right to what ‘home’ may mean.
Others introduce themselves in ways which inadvertently challenge the things we might not see as necessary to such a ritual. “I’m black and wear glasses”. Would I say , in the first sentence “I’m white ..” But if not, why not?
None of this would be foreign to the writers of most of our scriptures. Remember that the habitats of animals are gifted by God to them every bit as much as the same lands may be ‘given’ to a people. The sea is not the sea without the fish, nor are the heavens the heavens without the birds.
A couple of evenings ago, Christian Aid ‘and friends ‘ led an inspiring and theologically distinguished service in Glasgow Cathedral. Black theologian and Climate Professor Robert Beckford ( whom I did not recognise as when I’d last heard of him, he had dreadlocks, but we’ve both lost a bit of hair since then) likewise emphasised the sense of connectedness which he finds in black spirituality, the responsibility that this conveys, the experiential grounding of scripture and more. He called that ‘Pentecostalism’ . I began to wonder if I’m a Pentecostalist!. (And that from a “ Professor of Climate and Social Justice at University of Winchester”).
But I am who I am: and the blessings of hearing from these people what is is to be them is only affirming rather than undermining or paralysing in post-colonial guilt. To the African theologian who, attending a conference some years ago ( because European Christians at that time had always to invite an African and sing a few African songs in order to convince themselves that what they were hoping was worthwhile) .. who said “The Holy Spirit cannot move at two degrees Celsius “ I had to reply that “She can and she does!”.
But where are we starting from?
In contrast to those who happily identify themselves as ‘indigenous’ I am – as a white, western, male ,straight, middle-aged reformed Christian – rather ‘alienated” from the relationship with Creation which Christianity is well capable of fostering, let alone permitting.
Alienated….. not eternally separated.
Even despite the cultural and spiritual ravages of the industrial revolution, the Enlightenment, late capitalism, oppressive consumerism and colonialism, all of which demonically predispose my culture to treat the other as a thing, an it, rather than a who, the relationship as flesh with flesh in the rainbow covenant is my birthright as a human being, reinforced and repurposed through our kinship with Christ. And although I can and must listen to and learn from your sisters and brothers in Christ in a different mode of that relationship, it’s right, faithfully and humbly, to seek to reclaim (recycle, repurpose) that relationship as my own. Joyfully to rewild, as it were, what it means to be Christians when and where we are. I don’t need to be from the Pacific or the Arctic, to be Christian, though I can certainly learn from them . And the day may come when they learn from me. But that’s for them to say.
I know our churches have come some distance in this time of crisis which is also a time of spiritual healing. Great. That’s what we now need, with the greatest urgency to build on.
Our friend James Baghwan from the Pacific Council of Churches, who has been one of the most prominent and visible Christians in this COP, has pointed out how the traditions and spirituality of his own people are not in conflict, but enhanced by Christianity.
Ours, can I suggest, have been cowed and manipulated by other forces, but since you’re reading this, not wounded beyond healing.
And for those who a couple of weeks ago made a big fuss about ‘Christ Crucified’ as opposed to ‘climate change’ – what world is it that God so loved that God gave Godself in the one we call Jesus, incarnate in the Earth, made available to all in the risen Christ?
What is church for?
And for whom was Christ both crucified and risen?
…..but now, as COP nears its end, we’ve got Advent on the way: all those wonderful seasonal spiritual resources to help us in encountering the threats of our time. use them well!Continue reading →
- Prayers in a local church in the midst of COP
THANKSGIVINGContinue reading →
O God of all the world
O Christ incarnate in the Earth
O Breath sustaining life
Thank-you God, for this peculiar time.
thank-you that the days have come
For a city to whom all the nations have been streaming
And indeed from which has been streamed to all nations.
messages of hope, the good news of warnings
which still can be acted on
For all its many faults,
may we thank God that COP has come to our doorstep
that the pandemic has not stopped it once more.
Thanking God for the solidarity of those of us
who stand in queues
each morning, or notice how the indigenous voice
is being raised and heard beyond expectations and the manifest fact of their collective wisdom being seen and openly respected
We thank you for the signs that salvation belongs to the natural world
with an amazing new appreciation of Nature-based solutions
that your kingdom is within reach in response to the signs of the times.
We give thanks that the contradictions of the injustice
inherent in our addiction to fossil fuels
which manifestly harm the poorest first
-that these contradictions are now so very clear
in the garish light of the official layers of COP
We give thanks that the people who queue up to go through the checkpoints each day aren’t fools,
and that they are not wasting their time.
Nor were those who in the great march on Saturday blessed this city with their joy, their hope, their singing, their anger and their marching in your light.
So many ways and traditions and disciplines and faiths brought together here today.,
We give thanks for the hospitality of this city
especially of the churches
and the peace of the gathering thus far:
the unreported Good humour of the police and security services
and the prayers and commitment of those who, each in their own small way
give a lead to their neighbours
on the path to a better, greener, holier, more just relationship with
the creatures with whom we share a home,
and the dust to which we return.
O God of all the world
O Christ incarnate in the Earth
O Breath sustaining life
May the giving of thanks
sustain and encourage us
and give glory to your name,
let it be so: AMEN
O God of all the world
O Christ incarnate in the Earth
O Breath sustaining life
Encouraged by the hope,
sustained by the joy
and trusting in your solidarity
We bring you also everything
that worries or troubles us.
The struggles we each face, just to keep going
the things we share and those we’d rather not
And we pray for the life of this church, both as a sanctuary
and a light for love and justice, for all God’s creatures
including human ones.
That the day to day caring and building of community
-the greenest pursuit open to us –
may never take a back seat
even when informed and shaped
by global truth and urgency.
We ask and look for the inspiration
to appreciate and act upon the manifest interdependence
so that the beauty and wonder of the natural world
is revealed in unshakeable truth
as necessary even to our own lives
at every practical, spiritual level.
and in the crafting of our devotional life as a church
Confront us with our ignorance and arrogance
in the exploitation of habitats given by you as much to others as to us
and show us the way of hope and commitment.
as the good things of COP emerge, that they be not overshadowed
by the disappointments, delays and continuing injustices
which will remain next week.
And though so many prayers are made
for the leaders and their discussions
Dear God hear our prayers for every layer of gathering
civil society, faith groups, scientists and artists
Give us gratitude
for each small step forward;
Anger to drive change with urgency
Forgiveness for those who have tried and failed
Perseverance, to look beyond these desperate days to a better life for all…
And hope on which to build a generous path to Earth’s tomorrow
whatever foundation may be laid today, with you, for healing!
praying always and everywhere as you taught…
- In the midst of it all
In the midst of a Blue Zone session on the role of parliamentarians… things are happening, surprising togetherness with those who are charged with holding governments to account…
The Blue Zone is an amazing place … so many disciplines, expertises, coming together.
I’m therefore coming down so far well outside any obligatory narrative that COP will ‘fail’ . The cynicism which characterises the whole thing as a waste of time should be devoutly resisted .
Transition is imperative , but there is a remarkably widespread recognition in what I’m hearing, that the job of government will be in engagement with the public; ignorance is a liability, informed and functional democracy, like spirituality, assumes the role I perhaps always hoped it might.
Civil society has a role, and, like the empowerment of women, this is an imperative, if any action is to be carried through. The old mantra of ‘education education education’ has a continued or recycled place in every nation.
Decarbonising an economy is of course a much bigger matter than dealing with the Pandemic.
From the way it looks outside of this particular hothouse , one wonders why it’s not all more obvious. But then when have we challenged or encouraged our neighbours? When have we written or spoken encouragingly to our own elected representatives at all levels .? One more, for people of faith : what are we here for? Why are we gifted with the obligation t seek Good News for Creation? Dear God, help all of us value our place, purpose and particular gifts…… and get on with it!Continue reading →
- All Creatures Souls and Saints- a sermon in the midst of COP
I saw a new sky and a new earth; for the first sky and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from the sky, from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among people.
God will dwell with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”
GOSPEL Matthew 5.1–12
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the Realm of the Skies.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the Earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Realm of the Skies.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in the Skies, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.’
Blessed are those who are persecuted….
Today, Is the Earth blessed, or merely threatened? A New heaven and a new Earth?
Is that Good News – or is it the same story we’re living right now?
There are many heavens. And the first surprise is that when we look closely “the kingdom of heaven”, is plural. Not tidied up in a one-heaven fits all sort of way.
Unity through reconciled diversity. Diverse heavens. Just as it’s the peoples of God, rather than just one sort of people with whom that God will pitch their tent.
The choice of vocabulary in Genesis and John’s Gospel takes things wider still: God’s rainbow covenant is “with all flesh”, and the Word becomes “flesh” rather than just human when the specific alternatives were freely available. In the Isaiah 40:5 passage quoted for liberation by Martin Luther King, “All Flesh” has the privilege of seeing God’s glory, and I wonder if our time, when the refusal to acknowledge the fellow stakeholders in Creation has brought “all flesh” not just into danger, but a stone’s throw in geological time from premature extinction, it really is time to question – or reject – the cultural assumption that the ecological inclusiveness of scripture is a throwaway poetic device for a merely human salvation.
With the lead given globally by spiritual leaders like Pope Francis, we are reclaiming permission to see the Earth and all their Creatures as neighbours, partners; to neglect whose care, and love objectively endangers the justice, wellbeing of all.
In a story I wasn’t allowed to use in the Time for Reflection in Parliament last week:
In the days of firing squads, the condemned victim was blindfolded because soldiers wouldn’t fire whilst looking a fellow creature in the eye.
Today and from now on, with human fingers on that trigger, our own future depends on taking off that blindfold. Because whilst the gun is still in our hands we finally recognise, in the gaze we’re now vulnerable to, something of ourselves in the firing line.
Not least in the way we frame the deep reassurances and dire warnings of our scriptures.
Salvation or liberation? World or humanity? Spirit or breath?
(Blessed are those who are short of breath, for they will breathe clean air!)
And Heaven or Sky? Many ways of hearing that word, and in the readings today I have highlighted an indispensable one which perhaps English speakers regard as too humble, too real, too indecently accessible to qualify as holy.
Whatever else you want to mean by it -and realise, I’m ruling nothing out – just as Christ’s cross is also always a tree, a heaven is also always a sky, to which you relate every day of your life. The kingdom, the reign of such a heaven, the way it’s ruled is in the many intersecting cycles of carbon, oxygen, water and life. All the stuff that all the pomp and prayer and protest is about this week.
If the sky is any sort of heaven – and you have to work indecently hard to prove otherwise from Christian scripture and tradition – then this heaven is endangered in the crisis which points abruptly to the end of the Holocene, the geological age which has cradled most human cultures, civilisations and religions.
But in a constantly recycled world of endings, even the end of the age is not the end of the world. That’s good news.
The scriptural and other ancient resources of our faith take it for granted that everything that is, does pass away or pass on, though maybe, uniquely, Revelation looks even beyond that. Confirms it to the extraordinary extreme, that even death can be laid to rest.
In the meantime the relay continues: from one the Earth to the next recycled version, the handover from the first Earth to the new one, for whom continuity gives identity.
Recycling all the way through. Without the first Earth, there could not be a new Earth. Without Jerusalem no new Jerusalem. Without the birth in Bethlehem amongst the beasts and the testing time in fellowship with the wildlife of the Judean desert, there would be no Second Coming – that amazing spiritual assurance of God’s determination to keep faith and make victims of injustice into survivors, which ‘sensible’ churches have so neglected in our lifetime.
But think of what we’re doing to those heavenly cycles: burning out the carbon stored millions of years ago, overloading Earth’s capacity. And with plastics and more: defying the ability of life to break down and re-use what has already had a life.
We need, not the abusive relation of bondage to… but a grateful partnership with decay. Addicted to fossil fuels, we have preferred the slavery.
From the Beginning, and meaningfully reinforced by evolution in cosmic time, a single-use, throwaway culture is so very far from what God “sees to be good”, when “evening comes and morning comes” and evening comes again. Summer and winter, seed-time and harvest, not forever, but rather “whilst the earth lasts”.
So never mind the security barriers of the Green Zone or the Blue Zone at COP: Heaven is not aloof, nothing other than part of Creation.
Exactly as you should expect in a faith which insists that the divine Word became flesh, incarnate in the Earth. No part of our faith is exempt or irrelevant. The common experience of people under pressure is this: that the scary stuff has meaning.
Similarly to the skies, saints – occur predominantly in the plural in the New Testament. They impact on community. Saints are blessed to live out what it is to be God’s gift to the Earth. The rewards they bring, like the prophets, are shared beyond their immediate situation.
Jesus provides a saint-spotter’s guide for the benefit of his disciples, which even in its original form shockingly breaks the fourth wall to encompass those who would follow him. After the rest of that terrifying list list, it’s rather scary to hear “blessed are YOU….” but the way of Christ is a way of engagement not escape.
These are the ones from whom we will learn. Whose cover we need to blow. Not our dependants, not recipients of grudging charity, but those sent by God to give us a lead. They don’t need to be “right”, but their voices need to be heard. Without their blessed witness we fall into the hands of the powers and principalities who precipitate the injustice which in the Bible curses the land and their creatures as well as human beings. All creatures, souls, and saints.
That’s why indigenous voices, from the Small Island States, and all those communities hit hardest and first, are so blessed vital to the processes going on in this city this week. Those who, alongside the scientists with their honest and disciplined observations, can ensure the inclusion of the blessed voice of the Earth alongside the domineering voices of polluters and plutocrats
Is the Earth blessed, or merely threatened?
Persecuted – check!
You might argue whether nature is merciful. Nature wants to eat you, make no mistake .
But we also eat nature. We’re part of it. How much mercy do we show?
The hunger and thirst for a cosmic justice is built into the staggering complexity of the interdependence of life. The ecosystems and cycles wonderfully pursue a justice which is not punitive but providential.
How can we not – when the church celebrates the grace of the communion of saints and the fellowship of human souls living and departed – how can we not learn from such as Mungo of Glasgow, Francis of Assisi, and especially Columba of Iona, of the Communion of Creation? Of the joy and sadness of so much life?
When we think of how little of what we are is exclusive to our species, does it make sense do deny the dignity of ‘soul’ “after their kind”?
For all this we are already equipped as people of faith. With gifts we can, however, both take or leave. Blessings which emerge as meaningful only in times of threat.
When I was new to the church, I heard people proudly quoting from the German rebel theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was imprisoned and murdered by the state for standing up to Fascism. Bonhoeffer scores highly as blessed in Jesus’ defining presentation. What is a saint, but a blessed one?
Persecuted, imprisoned, – check!
with integrity. – check!
Many have quoted his letters from prison, but neglected the context of a man terrified and constrained, struggling to comfort from prison, a fiancée he never really had much in common with. Read all the letters, and yes, to some extent here is a man going off his head. Given the collaboration of German Christians with Nazism, he expresses huge reservations about “religion”, which many have picked up and run off with, without appreciation of the very narrow way in which he used that word ‘religion’.
As a grassroots pastor, I have seen how religion keeps people going at the edge. It gives us, when we let it, the spiritual resources to encounter bad news. Church is the place to bring your fears, receive your hopes. Be sustained by joy.
And because local churches are sanctuaries first and foremost, before ever they can be hotbeds of activism, faith can propel ordinary, vulnerable people into vital action for justice and peace and the integrity of Creation.
Local churches make available to those looked down on by the elites a sustaining spirituality. Glib talk about the failures of ‘religion’ betrays this blessing. Endangers this treasure.
A letter from prison is a different beast from a theological dissertation. And in the New Testament these insights of the sharp end, the final blessings that flow from ultimate threat are highly valued in their own right.
In the face of very real threat to his person, and having witnessed an obscene betrayal of Christ, Bonhoeffer found blessing in a very positive vision of Christianity as a life lived with integrity for the neighbour and their needs. Recycled, repurposed, re-embodied as a spiritual resource in times of crisis.
My discovery on reading was the comfort Bonhoeffer found in that when Jesus was afraid, he prayed. Strength in weakness. The realistic recognition of faith as a last resort, when the way ahead is impossible. Sharing something with the palliative approach I experienced in the last days of my late wife’s life. The joy of the hospice.
Having accepted our frailty, having accepted that we are not in charge, having accepted that though humanity has learned to harm the global ecosystem, we are a long way from controlling or governing it… to sum up, having accepted what we can’t do, we are set free to think of who we can be. Whatever happens or not this week in Glasgow.
Though when in the whole of recorded history has a ‘reward in the skies’ made more sense than now? What else are we looking for? Why insulate your religion from the reality you live in?
I’ve met too many Christians who point-blank refuse to acknowledge the unity of Creation: the healing recycling of heaven and earth both in the vision of Revelation.
The Book of Revelation is prison literature, expressing those wild freedoms of expression that emerge when other freedoms are abolished. Along with Jesus’ own robustly apocalyptic sayings preserved in the Gospels: this end-of-world spirituality, which has accompanied God’s people through so much that seemed hopeless, confirming hope as by far the most practical option.
This week, may we learn a wee bit more how to drive such apocalyptic vehicles for the journey of spiritual resilience, for the glory of God, the comfort of the groaning Creation, the calming of the stones grown hoarse at shouting aloud in the face of the silence of Christ’s disciples.
This week, may we be finally be church for real. In fellowship with all Creatures Souls and Saints.Continue reading →
- Christ’s disregarded pioneers
On the occasion of COP 26 and thereafter….
( cf Psalm 40 from v 9, Matthew 5 1ff James 2 etc)
CM – e.g Stracathro, University, Lyngham, Martyrdom, but choose according to the mood of the service.
1) When nations gather, Earth will cry
As those ground down will shout
For God gave the despised a voice
No door can keep them out.
2)Though riches block ears; blindfold eyes;
the razor wire of wealth
imprisons those it would protect
endangers all life’s health
3)Our home’s beset with what we’ve done
compounded and unjust
with rising seas and choking air
a crisis of mistrust
4) The blessing in plain sight is this:
to hear and heed with haste
Christ’s disregarded pioneers:
lest God’s good Earth be waste.Continue reading →
- We are equipped in heart and mind
We are equipped in heart and mind
(for Job 38:1-7 (34-41)
Tune: e.g. Saffron Walden ( CH4 553) , Childhood*** (615 in R&S)
1) We are equipped in heart and mind
to intervene and smooth the way;
yet vain ambition to control
rejects, neglects God’s love.
2)We may disrupt, deduct, destroy
the seasons’ regularity:
the rocks’ suppos’d eternal strength
deep-founded in God’s love.
3)We’ve cause to sing with trees who breathe
and grow and shade and feed and house
the birds who make sky heaven yet,
the Earth’s full of God’s love
4)With predators and prey we live
A woven tapestry diverse
threadbare through greed, injustice-worn
take warning from God’s love.
5)We will not know, know-how, God knows
Why bees with flowers dance for joy
We can describe and measure, yet
the answer’s in God’s love.Continue reading →
- The Signal is Green…..
We certainly were’t prepared for COP last year, when we heard it had been pushed forward, though in the meantime our awareness of the urgency of change has grown sharply, covid or no covid. But now it’s coming. A runaway train. Like the crisis itself, no escape or excuses. After the UN’s “Code Red” in August, every would-be green preacher or prayer leader has now to ask themselves – when we have softened or played down the severity – “have we really shared the Truth in Love?”.
And for every piously environmental messaging, every prayer for salvation and liberation for the Earth or the poor, from now on, climate change calls our bluff.
In one way – and especially as we approach the “end-of-world ministry” of Advent in the weeks immediately following COP – we’ve been saying the right thing for centuries. We have been prepared for an age like this one, though sometimes setting aside the scary stuff in our scriptures, that deals with scary times. Or diverting it with ornamental approaches. November’s question is: “given the games we play as Church, do we really mean it?”
In the meantime, the age-old tasks of hospitality beckon: the Dear Green Place, and indeed Scotland as a whole can rise to the call to be welcoming to visitors of a dazzling diversity. Who was it Sarah and Abram met under that Oak Tree in Mamre? Whom will we welcome with the pilgrims politicians paparazzi and protestors . As the lark says in her song, ‘often often often goes the Christ in the stranger’s guise!’ [‘Celtic rune of hospitality, Iona Community Welcome Service ].
In the same way, we have already grown closer than ever before to people of faith and goodwill. The significance of interfaith work has grown beyond the marginal meeting of cuddly Christians with cuddly Muslims, Hindus and others, to an unassailably necessary way of life for the road ahead. Those who are not against us – yes really- turn out to be for us, if we are for the planet.
It would be so nice to be able to sit back and encourage churches just to include the whole thing in their prayer intentions for a week or two and just carry on, though that’s not the nature of the gift of such a gathering of the nations on our doorstep. How can we be “the church, but different”, when the circus has come and gone? How can we bring the bad news about the planet into our sacred spaces and activate the spiritual resources of our scripture and tradition to engage with it?
And just as every claim to ’stop the climate crisis’ in its tracks is dishonest or self-deluding, so too, of course, is the suggestion that we can directly dictate what goes on in the blue zone ‘outside holiness’ and behind the razor wire where ” soldiers gamble, thieves curse, and the nations clash at the cross-roads of the world [George MacLeod, ‘Only One Way Left’]…
This is COP, and this is where again we raise the Cross, offering our way of hope beyond hope; of courage faith and a cheerfulness that sustains. Humbly, eagerly, and trusting that God can use whatever imperfection or encouragement will emerge from this gathering which will do good, but maybe not enough, maybe now, as diaries, events, locations finally slot into place, we are as ready as we’re going to be. COP is not an ‘event’ but a spiritual journey of transformation. That’s what’s on offer, by the grace of God. And a congregation that prays along, takes part as surely as the superpower delegate on the conference floor.
Continue reading →
Look out for: the interfaith vigil in George Square on 31st OctoberThe great Peoples’ Action – a march of hope and protest on November 6thEcumenical Service from Glasgow Cathedral on November 7th, streamed live from 4pmMany venues around the city centre, and elsewhere in Scotland….
- A Forest in the Temple of God: Kentigern for the Days of COP
PDF here, for ease of reading.
Thoughts towards a Mungo COP
(A long draft for a possible video reflection, already consciously omitting quite a few possible themes)
Mungo is the Book we never read. Two names, many spellings: Kentigern: the formal identity in a warrior society; ’Mungo’ is a term of endearment. We’ll go with Mungo.
You’ll have heard something about a revived robin and that fish on the lamp posts with the ring in their mouth. A Celtic Salmon of Wisdom, caught in what the Clyde once was. Trees, birds, fish, bells.
There’s other stuff you might not have heard of: deer harnessed to the plough, and how the location of Glasgow Cathedral – in common with Durham Cathedral – was entrusted to the instincts of untamed cattle; how Mungo relied on the guidance of a wild boar, to found Llanelwy monastery; trusting, with significant Biblical precedent, to the gifts of these creatures.
The landscape of Scotland, written by the Ice Age, reworked by humanity, tells the story alongside a clutch of fragments and poems, all with their own agenda, from centuries after Mungo lived, and in Glasgow in 614, died. All agree with Jocelin of Furness that:
“he demonstrated from the beauty of visible creatures that … God was the creator of all things”
Look at the birds, learn from the trees. The miracle of nature?
There’s also the nature of miracle: Never mind water to wine: Mungo’s influence turned milk to cheese, which, when we’ve finished being underwhelmed, might open our eyes to the immersion of God in Creation in the wee things too.
Inspiration in the small wonders of daily life, enlisting us in care and responsibility for the bottle-garden of our Planet; a habitat gifted and shared simultaneously with so much other life. And it’s all recycled. Or it dies.
* * *
Mungo went to Rome, of course. ( Seven times, to be on the safe side) and received from the Pope, a Bell, curiously identical to those of the Celtic Saints.
These were Bells to drive out the demons of injustice and to hold power to account. Mungo’s Bell has been not just recycled and repurposed, but made and remade. ( 1450, 1651) Looking in each case curiously like a bell of the age in which it is founded.
We ring Mungo’s bell anew, to call for climate justice and to drive out the demons of denial. Hand in hand with Mungo the Green. One with us, in justice for Creation. One with us in love for God’s creatures, one with us in in Christ, whom we trust above all. God willing, there’s truth to be found, without much digging. Truth right now: for the mega-pilgrimage of COP, as the great and bad and small and good gather in the city that grew round Mungo’s salmon fishery, which a thousand years later was dredged blasted and channelled into a major waterway. The stream of his story may have undergone similar violence. And yet, through the preaching of God’s word, that became the city motto, we have the chance to flourish.
The Truth we need today is one where your neighbour is your fellow creature, or indeed the living planet that Pope Francis calls us to cherish as we would a beloved relative on whom we also depend. This Truth for me, lurks in the lovely murk of Mungo of the Green Place.
A Truth, that, kindled by the breath of love from damp brushwood, is a wildfire leaving in its wake a fertile ground for change. For Mungo deserves forthwith to be recognised as patron of sustainable energy.
As a young monk, he’s charged with guarding and fuelling a sacred flame “sent down from heaven” which, when he drops off – by the malice of his young peers, is snuffed out.
This flame is a practicality. It’s a matter of ‘keeping the lights on” as politicians put it: and through prayer and practicality, an alternative light is brought on stream, for the good of all. Our ways of life and economics, globally unjust, have burned out. We’re running on empty, in need of direction, and hope.
Facts are part of that: warnings from scientists of terrifying changes to the balance of the Earth. With COP upon us, we’re up to our eyes in facts, with figures coming out of our ears, and there’s a whole lot of change to embrace, to be the church for today. For the Glasgow COP to be the Mungo COP
But cry ‘Mungo’, and you trip over the stumbling block of entitled contempt. In many ways and places. There’s the colourful contempt of the Cumbrian biographer Jocelin (five and a half centuries later), for the Scots. Contempt for the common people who told and loved Mungo’s tales; contempt for their culture, their way of speech and more.
“Pouring the life-giving liquid from the original vessel into the new, …… that this work not be obscured by crawling in the filth of debased speech”
Jocelyn discovered a tale of trashing, dissing. Belittling. Denying. St Mungo is so fittingly the patron of the Bullied….. intimidated and misrepresented. In his life and beyond. Fleeing from pointless conflict, facing danger, speaking compassionate truth to power.
I’m reminded of death threats against climate scientist Michael Mann, whose blessed name is invoked by the iconic hockey-stick graph. Malice arising from the Gospel of Warning. Our first entrenched reaction to Truth is not just defensive, but aggressive.
“Why should I…..?”
Mungo “absteyned fro flesshe and wyne and fro all that myght distempre hym” .
.. But why should I eat less meat?
Ultimately, when we know the score, it’s for our own good, rather than some pointless regulation.
We sympathise with Jocelin’s gritted teeth, over the commission to fashion the miraculous life which regulations required for Mungo to take his place as a proper cathedral saint.
For even writing “new” material, we cling on to the Enlightenment heritage of domination of all other life and matter, content with “stewardship”, keeping partnership and accountability at arm’s length.
Like Jocelyn, when we eat our words… we find it’s a nourishing meal. For like Jocelin’s patron, and namesake Bishop Jocelyn of Glasgow, climate crisis calls our bluff. What is the church for, but the good of Creation? Creation in unity, heaven and earth, sky soil and sea, not split apart like a science fiction universe. Not split into people and all the other stuff.
When Jocelin swallows pride and sticks his neck out for the wonder of God at work in Creation… this, too, is our urgent need as we open our eyes hearts and minds to the Truth of our kinship and partnership with God’s other creatures, supported so powerfully by the kingdom of biological and natural sciences. Enriched beyond measure by personal sharing with land and sea …and Jesus, the friend of wildlife, in the mainstream of our faith.
It turns out all right, when we overcome that human-centred entitlement which looks to God for excuse for the futile enterprise of world control, but rules out Christ’s Truth that those who would be great must be servant of all. For “all” is a Creation-inclusive word. And it turns out that service is more fun than domination.
* * *
In our churches, we still have to confront the eagerness of modern scholars to trash our defining legends, though mythology remains a vital vehicle of truth. Stories shift us like statistics seldom do.
There’s also those fundamentalist liberals who insist that ‘you must not even flirt with belief ‘ – driving out what they see as the demon of naïveté, to leave in the void a desirable residence for fake science, despair, and worse: prohibiting our access to these rich resources for spiritual resilience in times of threat and turmoil, and privileging denial, because, just like the Truth of the tales told by genuine refugees to professionally incredulous border guards, “they’re only a story” .
When the circus of COP overwhelms Mungo’s Dear Green Place, we need stories – of refugees; of people flooded out of their homes; of those unjustly punished for the suffering already inflicted upon them and habitats denied to those God gave them – as never before.
Allow the rich and powerful a monopoly of hearing and we dig our own grave. Better prefer stories of refugees like Mungo, their nourishment, their refuge, and how they transform the world for good. We need to trust God within them, even through a glass, darkly.
Jocelin’s misgivings grew ironically into a lovely green image: he feared that, engaging with the untamed folklore of Mungo, he would be accused of planting not just a tree, but a whole “forest in the Temple of God”.
That’s Deuteronomy 16: that terror of ritual abuse of the holiness of nature by the vicious cults of Asherah. But Trees remain holy. Trees are where God meets God’s people and not just Sarah and Abram. And through human violence, the tree abused for crucifixion reasserts their unity with the Tree of Life. In ancient Glasgow, Oak trees over a grave marked the holiness of those buried beneath.
As for the ‘tree that never grew’ then in the age of Climate Crisis it is time for the saplings of courage, faith and cheerfulness to grow into exactly what Jocelin feared: that forest in God’s Temple, breathing in the air the forest breathes out, sheltering under their leaves, enjoying their fruit,
Even (here, )where Mungo’s embraced by the Earth. That’s truth.
* * *
Which Truth was the question over the pregnancy of Mungo’s mother Thenew, or Enoch vulnerable daughter of the dynastically ambitious king Lot, seduced by the preaching of passing Christians into refusal to be married off expediently, finding herself pregnant through intimidation, deception and shocking abuse which shines out grimly through the awkwardness of medieval writers about women. As does a feisty determination which sits oddly with a pure noble virgin. Thenew’s not a victim, but a survivor.
We need the abused Earth -which for Pope Francis is our mother – to be a survivor, rather than a victim. Christian writers are gleeful about the barbarism of her warrior father King Loth, whose stone though relocated, is still at the base of the Holy Hill Traprain Law, one of those prominences of the Scottish landscape which connect one place to another as surely as any telecommunications might. Not the highest, but the best-connected hill is the holiest in such a landscape.
Long before the quarry gobbled a cliff into the east side, there were cliffs from which Mungo’s mother-to-be was propelled to hell in a hand-cart.
Yet it seemed to her, she descended “in the fashion of a bird falling gently to earth lest by chance she would strike her foot against a rock.”
By the grace of God she survived, only to be set adrift on a charge of witchcraft (here )at Aberlady – today a gorgeous nature reserve and a great place for a swim, but back then stinking to high heaven with rotting fish gutted on the seashore.
The single mother set adrift, is cast ashore, giving birth where the altar of the chapel remains at Culross…
And in the refuge that she found, the modern twisted narrative of a vindictive church, determined to blame victims and add rejection to abuse, has no part.
Thrown off a cliff by their own family and people, Enoch and her unborn child Mungo are carried in safety by waves entrusted with their demise. Victims, survivors, refugees, welcomed then alone by those who served God. Womens’s Aid (here) at Culross. Where coal would soon be mined and where gas flares on the far bank of the Forth. St Serf was summoned either by the cry of a baby or of angels. Is there any difference in urgency? Was that Christ… or Mungo? The saintly local hero came bundled with extreme and embarrassing parallels to the life of Jesus, which Jocelin struggled to massage into orthodoxy. Our Gospels make that easy in a way Jocelin strangely struggles with.
When you saw them homeless hungry, persecuted, outside the law – and act – you do so for Christ.
Is Christ’s authority threatened by obedience to his commands? Is our love of Christ endangered when we really do meet Christ face to face in fellow creatures in need, or suffering from injustice?
Jocelyn had a balancing act on his hands:
…. because the foolish and unwise people living in the diocese of Saint Kentigern still do not fear to say that he himself was conceived and born of a virgin.
He couldn’t beat ‘em, though. He joined ‘em
“And there were shepherds keeping watch nearby, having care over the protection of their flocks. They were going out in the early morning when they saw a fire kindled near at hand. … with an infant wrapped up in swaddling clothes”.
I became more fond of Jocelyn reading that.
* * *
Mungo’s insistence on covering ground on foot looks like ostentatious humility, but presents a different type of travel from the instantaneous teleportation which seems to be our ideal. Mungo was what we’d call an ‘active traveller’ walking accessibly, rather than riding like an overlord. Ready to spring into action every step of the way
“Alway he had a Manuell in his hande redy to do his offyce when nede requyred “
The ways Mungo’s people keep in touch – through prayer, and word of mouth – are incredible only because we rely on modern technology to do that ancient job. Celtic saints were thoroughly networked. Before Scotland England Ireland and Wales had their current meaning, they taught and travelled, though like Mungo, often on foot.
Enduring wonders in the tales of Mungo and his mother Theney, though, are of forgiveness, the renunciation of violence, the refusal to collude with laws which protect only the powerful. The Gospel of seeking wellbeing rather than punishment; of leaving vengeance to God, of acknowledging in other creatures a valid parallel of what makes human life worth living; blurring that respectable razor-wire boundary between rational human and brute beast.
A hidden gem is Mungo’s encounter with the wild man Lailoken, who merges easily into the wider legends of European Christendom: the Green/wild/wood man, the personal, spiritual aspect of nature, suffering from its abuses, embodying its goodness. Beloved of God and those who serve God. ( Baptised by Mungo (here) in Stobo) But perhaps he’s also a veteran with post-traumatic stress. That’s what war does. Puts people where we’ve put animals. Othering is deadly.
“Lord Jesus Christ, in whose hand is the breath of all your creatures,… restore to this little bird the breath of life so that your blessed name will be praised forever.
That’s the valuing of a small life, in the robin who fell victim to the boisterous jealously of Mungo’s peers in Culross, and for whose death Mungo was unjustly blamed; the realisation that our own sternly exclusive way of thought and speech and life does not scratch the surface of the independence, the interwoven-ness of the flesh that the Word of God became; the life of the Rainbow Covenant with God in their entirety.
In Mungo, we come closer to God when we abandon our objectification, our othering, of fellow creatures … Like [St Serf ] , with cheerfulness, admiring in the robin the great power of the Creator, by whom the mute speak and irrational things are known to experience reason. …by the command of the heavenly Father, without whom not even one sparrow falls toward the earth.
The predations of a wolf were no cause for the death of the predator, who serves a probation by ploughing nine acres before he’s allowed to return to the forest.
We won’t leave Mungo without noting how, since we are part of Creation and we need management, intervention and guidance, the same is true of nature without us.
Mungo’s interventions in nature to cure disease and heal the sick, even the resuscitation of the grumpy cook who died before his time – all these are in the same category as speaking out against injustice. The human calling, to the flourishing of life.
Jocelin leaves us with this assurance, that in Glasgow, sight is restored to the blind, hearing to the deaf, steps to the lame, speech to the mute, cleanliness to the leper’s skin, strength to paralysed limbs,
as a prayer for COP
sense to the insane……
AMEN.Continue reading →