Chaplain’s Blog

Welcome to the Environmental Chaplain’s blog – a new page where Rev’d David Coleman shares his thoughts and reflections.

  • Prayer/Meditation as COP begins …

    [Downloadable PDF: text alone below ]

    Dear Sustaining God

    in Scotland, we’ve been here:

    we hosted COP

    and made the most

    of getting together,

    sticking our necks out

    marching, protesting encouraging.

    It did some good, thank God.

    Though not enough, 

    as the sweltering  Earth 

    in person assures us:

    breathlessly groaning, 

    and lashing out.

    with fire and flood and drought.

    And so this time round

    when still, so much could come 

    of the gathering 

    and mutual encouragement of nations

    yet when disappointment and frustration 

    seem part of the process

    simply, help us 

    from the outset,

    to wish them well:

    the scientists who compare notes

    the indigenous folk, who bring wisdom

    the protesters, 

    who hold it all to account

    and even the ludicrous greenwashers

    and lackeys of pollution

    that on the Road to Damascus 

    or even Dubai

    they may be inspired

    to practice what they proclaim.

    We pray for the strengthening 

    of the voices of the smaller nations;

    For the laughter 

    that brings down unjust  thrones;

    the faith that shouts Hosanna!

    God Help Us!

    Hallelujah anyway!

    And bless and use 

    the  Great Green Circus of the nations

    for justice in Heaven and Earth.


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  • PDF for Banners: Do good stuff and shout about it (cf Matthew 5:16)

    If you’re joining the march in Edinburgh (during COP28) on December 9th, download this to make a banner, or in some other, creative way of your own, make sure the witness of our movement is made visible. We have something to say and to celebrate.

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  • A sermon stranded by extreme weather

    Exodus 33:12-23, Matthew 22:15-22

    Give God what’s God’s.  

    Exodus 33:12-23

    Moses said to the Lord, “See, you have said to me, ‘Bring up this people’; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favour in my sight.’ Now if I have found favour in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favour in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” He said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And he said to him, “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favour in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.”

    The Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favour in my sight, and I know you by name.” Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” 

    And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 

    But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” And the Lord continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”

    Matthew 22:15-22

    The Pharisees went and plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.


    Give to God what is God’s. 

    Does that sound controversial?

    I still encounter the expectation that, if as a visitor  to a church I’m preaching on Creation, the Earth, the Environment – and, verging into the state of the planet – it’s presumed the parts of the Bible I’ll be on heading for  will be the bit at the beginning and the bit at the end: the Seven days of Creation full of God’s Goodness, and the notable biodiversity of the Nation-Healing-Trees at the far tip of  the Book of Revelation.  Two valuable insights, separated, but more importantly,  connected, by a thousand pages in between.

    Sometimes too, and not unlike most reporting of the terrible attack on Israel  by Hamas, the environmental story is presumed to start  without a history.  

    Just as in previous centuries Europeans  declared the homelands of other humans to be uninhabited and fair game for the brutalities of colonisation. We were quite happy. Driving, flying, burning and destroying habitats of what seemed to be beautiful but ultimately expendable fellow creatures. And exploiting the homelands of neighbours who lived near mineral wealth. Seldom to the benefit of locals.

     And  so every  incremental impact or cost of environmental action is hauled over the coals without reference to the previous century of what Pope Francis described as the war  against the Earth.  It’s a sobering truth that although we’ve been burning stuff for a couple of centuries, the greater part of the damage thus far has been in my own lifetime.

    Like all wars, the layers of injustice and responsibility are extremely complex. What of the poor on the streets of a rich polluting nation? What of the civilians for decades confined to the tiny territory of Gaza, when, suddenly,  other civilians are brutally murdered by Hamas militia? 

    It’s so easy to be green if you can blame the poor for having children. Or export your pollution to the people who make things for you. 

    Do you blame the oil worker feeding their family, or the chief executive, or the prime minister who makes their decisions, knowing full well that further fossil fuel development, – rather than considerate phasing out of existing projects – will, somewhere down the line,  kill our neighbours, human or otherwise.  And knowing that if jobs were really what mattered, a serious level of sustainable investment would bring more. 

    Who is your emperor, who is your god?

    Back in Matthew’s Gospel: maybe those people trying to put words in Jesus’ mouth which would  provoke the Romans to do their dirty work… maybe they were the ancestors of such decision-makers. Or of Donald Trump with his absurd lies about wind turbines killing whales. Or the ancestors of anyone who talks about “national security’ and then goes ahead and endangers  the planet which is still home to that  ‘insecure’ nation as well as to sisters and brothers in Christ from the Pacific who’ve been warning us for the last two or three decades. 

    Everything is connected, all the way through. Its’ the global temperature which has exceeded 1.5 degrees for a third of this year. It’s the holiday destinations Scots fly to that have been on fire. It’s the already flooded landscapes of Scotland that suffer a downpour too many.

    As Jesus said to the disciples: what you do on the ground makes a difference to the sky.  That’s never been more true, given the scale of human activity. 

    Though we’ve spent a couple of generations reassuring worshippers that “heaven” is a science fiction dimension of detachment, rather than part of God’s unified creation.  

    We’ve separated out the things of God who sustains us  and the Emperor who exploits us.

    We’ve given the surrounding society the chance to imagine that churches teach a fairy tale, rather than a deep truth about God’s Created Reality….which means that, alongside other people of faith and goodwill, we have a real gift to offer, a real light to shine. 

    English speaking churches, perhaps uniquely, have to be reminded that whilst denying nothing else you might – legitimately -mean by “heaven”, heaven is  also always “sky”. The atmosphere, the climate. The signs of which the wise take note. Heaven. Which Jesus said is “vulnerable to violence and attack’. But we just skim over that.

    Everything in God’s creation is interconnected, interdependent. 

    And that truth is what underlay Jesus’ response to the Pharisees and Herodians who hated each others’ guts. But not so much as they hated this rabbi from the backwaters. Jesus threw back at them their false separation of  what is holy from what is not.  

    As certainly all of the churches in EcoCongregation should feel justified in throwing back at anyone who protests that the care of the Earth and the partnership with their creatures might not be a priority for Christian witness, mission, discipleship and evangelism. 

    All of which is resourced by scripture: not just by “the bit at the beginning and the bit at the end. “

    What has all this tree-huggery got to do with Christ? – who said “look at all the trees!” Everything. 

    As regards Christian Scripture, I’ve been delighted to confirm that   the intervening thousand pages are enriched when we stop working so hard to exclude and ignore the participation of the personalities of the Earth and fellow Creatures and the rollercoaster of our relations with them. 

    The more we  insist that Scripture is concerned with realities rather than abstractions, the more meaningful and enjoyable and powerful becomes our relationship with it.

    So we could  pick a reading out at random, but  a text without a context is a pretext. Yes, we’ve read the passage,  but if I’m writing the sermon, I need to have read the preceding chapters. 

    And this  reading  from Exodus comes after the failure of a detailed religious programme, of pandering to the peoples’ need for reassurance, rather than telling them the truth, and providing resources for them to respond. 

    That’s of course, is what EcoCongregation Scotland is about. The truth about the planet – and the urgency thereof – sets us free to respond in hope and faith and love. Now. 

    Truth and freedom. Another connection.

    I  mentioned that failure of a religious programme, because of a pandering to the peoples’ need for reassurance, rather than their need for truth.

    From time to time this is also the way things look when good faithful people imagine that the cosy duty-based approach to Creation from way back  is still sufficient.  – Or maybe science will just fix things.

     Maybe not so “way back” – but way back when what is now beyond reasonable doubt about the unjust human causes of the crises of nature and climate would have seen like wild apocalyptic fantasy. 

    When Creation  seemed something  to fob off on the children.  Or those completely unbiblical prayers on the lines of  “God’s in charge so everything will be all right”. Straight from the mouth of the one who tempted Jesus to jump off the pinnacle of the Temple. 

    Jesus knew better. That’s why so much of his teaching in the Gospels takes the form of warnings. To take or leave.

    Just as in the letters of John, we hear you can’t love God unless you love your neighbour. So too, can you love God without caring for fellow creatures?  Including human ones?  Course not!

    Cherish for God who and what  is God’s! 

    In our reading, the Hebrews are on the brink of losing their special relationship with God, because God requires an integrity which -following the abuses of slavery – they  haven’t yet had the chance to develop. Moses argues on their behalf;  in response  God gives him resources of personal experience of who God is and what God’s about. Personal.

    When Moses looks to see God’s “glory”- and glory is also an attribute of human kings, God offers a vision of “goodness”- which is the delightful, enjoyable, wonderful stuff God has invested in Creation. Goodness is the personality of God. 

     But as a resource  for dealing with the challenges of life, God also gifts to Moses  that truth that you can’t speak God’s name and deceive yourself that you’re in charge. God whose name is ‘I am who I am, or ‘I will be who I choose to be”. 

    That’s  the true idolatry of the false security of the golden calf, or indeed of the internationally  scandalous decision to go ahead with Rosebank oilfield and all the rest. 

    Because from then on, all your decisions are based on a lie, and that lie is that you yourself can invent truth, rather than receive it and respond to it.  But everything is connected. In God the maker of Heaven and Earth.

    This last month or two has some disturbing similarities which go beyond the standard preacher’s stock in trade of making vague connections. 

    Because although it may not have felt like it,  from COP in Glasgow 2 years ago, The UK as a collection of nations – even if only relative to the sluggishness  of others – had been in a position of leadership with reading the signs of the heavens, and acknowledging God’s Goodness by  taking note of the facts of climate crisis. A beginning was being made to begin that transition, with fairness and  justice, to the promised land of a low-carbon economy, looking for a healthier and fairer society, which also took note, for the good of all, of the cost of our way of life both to wildlife and to human beings who suffer most and pollute least.

    But now there’s  a cascade of retrograde measures: the go-ahead for new oil and gas and the raft of u-turns on green policies which look costly only from their economic text without a context. Which astoundingly ignores the realities of  this year.  Floods, droughts, wildfires, heatwaves. Oh, and floods.  Extremes made more extreme by the knowingly chosen continuation of our slavery to  fossil fuels and our refusal fully to embrace -rapidly – an Exodus from that way bondage.  

    Which we’ve begun. 

    As the Hebrews began. But lost faith and languished in the wilderness  of transition until the generation of grumblers had died out.

    We don’t have the luxury of that timescale.

    Give to God what is God’s.  Amen.

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  • Hymn Poem – God the Sustainer

    (To go with Exodus 33:12-23 Matthew 22:15-22) Meter 11 10 11 10 – Was Lebet, Was Schwebet [Brightest and best…] CH4 327 or CH4 634

    Downloadable PDF below

    1) God the Sustainer is God who embraces

    weaves and connects all that’s known and obscure;

    Seas and the skies suffer human injustice:

    Earth shares a voice with the downtrodden poor.

    2) God in Christ Jesus speaks love full of warning:

    counsels we build on the rock, not on sand

    teaches alertness and wide-awake walking

    faith is God’s gift for the good of the land.

    3) Kingdoms will suffer from violent corruption –

    Even the Kingdom of Heaven itself 

    Earth, God’s Creation, is balanced in beauty:

    fragile, our friend, needing care for good health .

    4) Nothing we do, say, or pray is irrelevant:

    neither to neighbours next door, nor afar.

    God’s is the glory that’s known in Earth’s goodness

    Empires do fall, when such truth they ignore.

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  • God fill our hearts to the brim [hymn poem based on the Prayer of St Basil the Great, C4]

    .Download as PDF

    Text for copying direct

    God fill our hearts 

    Hymn poem to meter  11 10 11 10  cf CH4 327 Was lebet, was schwebet.  [**Nb quick “dotted” extra syllable at the end of  v2 and  v4  line 3 ]Based on the prayer of St Basil the Great – c.330-379AD And inspired by Matthew 18:18

    1) God fill our hearts to the brim for all sharing

    life that you give and the life  you sustain:

    microbes to whales as from nations  to oceans:

    Deep Hospitality too, is your Name.

    2) God, keep us robustly loving, with wisdom:

    mindful of when to step in and step back;

    mindful of harm when we claim Earth exclusively:

    unjust exploitative selfish attack!

    3) God you gave senses to read every warning;

    even as praise is supplanted by pain.

    Blinkered and armoured, our rich ones denying:

    favouring ruin and death as their ‘gain.’

    4) Give us  delight, now,  in every life’s sweetness

    lived for the good of the Earth and your praise.

    Stories be told that will celebrate unity:

    Heaven and Earth, woven beautiful ways.

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  • Prayer in the Season of Creation 2023

    Downloadable Video from many locations.

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  • Hymn Poem Proper 13A: With Time running out!

    Hymn for Proper 13A: Genesis 32.22–31  Matthew 14.13–21

    Tune: St Denio (CH4 132)

    1) On margins, with nothing,  but time running out,

    God’s people discover what faith is about:

    Tell  stories discarded when all had seemed well

    Whilst  sifting and sorting and bidding farewell!

    2) When crowds gather, desperate, with violent intent

    Christ heals and Christ teaches to channel dissent

    to peace for the Earth and for feeding of souls:

    resilience, compassion, forgiveness enrolls.

    3) When Heaven’s in crisis and Earth has grown hot

    fires, storms, on the acid seas, cry out to God.

    We’ll hide from injustice – or will we take heed

    how hope faith and joy can transform times of need?

    4) The Earth is a prophet, proclaiming God’s Word

    who wrestles with those who pretend they’ve not heard:

    Injustice harms people and planet and flesh,

    though hope, by God’s grace, may Earth’s  future refresh!

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  • Sermon for a Reconnecting EcoCongregation

    Cross from scrap wood: Jacob and his pillow-stone

    Downloadable PDF


    Let anyone with ears listen!”

    What better  starting point for reflection today on these powerful stories preserved and interpreted as resources for our guidance and nourishment today? That final phrase, 

    Let anyone with ears listen!”

    a pun in English and in Greek

    the final phrase   of our reading, which Jesus uses more than once, within a body of teaching on the importance of vigilance hard-wired to with responsiveness-to-threat throughout the New Testament. 

    And this is why, as a church of EcoCongregation Scotland – though I gather you’ve got a bit lost with that identity, no matter – as a church who at some point has had an openness to the integration of Care for Creation with your life, work and worship, your prospects for a harvest of spiritual resilience, of hope, and even some joy, are pretty good.  

    Though from what I’ve encountered recently of some of the workings of the churches, to talk in a sermon about the end of the world will come as light  relief!  

    Because even if despair might commend itself as a merely rational response, hope, with eyes wide open,  emerges as a far more practical and rewarding path.

    The level-headed farmer who puts the brakes on premature weeding is both hopeful and practical, and intensely realistic. They don’t hide from the truth, they don’t pretend it hasn’t happened, and especially, they don’t pretend that everything’s going to be all right because God’s in charge.  

    Jesus is certainly not encouraging any such thing with this story. But rather alertness, cunning, hope, and perseverance, rather than neutral patience. 

    Our faith – and of course we have no monopoly on this – makes all the more sense, the more we allow ourselves to hear, with such ears as we do have;… the more we read, as Jesus assumed we’d be able to, the signs not just of remote poetic heaven, but the climate-bearing sky above you. 

    Jacob’s dream of connection is the  unveiling of a reality previously blinkered. Jacob’s Ladder– and by the way, there is a steep staircase in Edinburgh with that name – connects not two worlds, but the upper and lower parts of the same town.

    The parable of the weeds and the wheat  follows after the story of the sower, in which, a scarily imperfect situation, nonetheless results in an abundant harvest. 

    Some seed is lost, some eaten, some strangled, but that’s  the way of Creation. 

    Which is also what the wise farmer here refuses to lose sight of. 

    {If the weed is darnel, by the way, it can only be distinguished from wheat late into the season. Scream “weeds” and you have no harvest at all.}

    And so our  early twenty-first century wisdom no longer simply writes off  the birds ands the weeds and the needs of the Earth as if these are in some sense evil. 

    The treasured hedgerows we’ve torn up in the quest for productivity, with their weeds and birds and  biodiversity were part of a wider living community, rather than something sustained by plastic barriers and by poison. The ocean floor is about more than catches of fish.  Likewise the peatlands, treasures of carbon capture, in which we’re filling in the same drainage ditches they paid folk to dig thirty years ago.

    It’s through listening to industrialists and planners, as well as the scientists who were gathered in Glasgow in November 2021, for the United Nations Climate Conference,  that I’ve moved on recently to talking not just of a climate emergency, but a ‘Nature and Climate Crisis’.  

    It’s so much more all-embracing that we’d considered. And it’s about us too. As a friend in the South Pacific reminded me on Facebook this week: 

    We are a part of not apart from Creation … we are the biodiversity we destroy…we are the biodiversity we protect.

    Not just poets and preachers, but science too, shows more and more how what we thought was merely beautiful and therefore expendable, is vital to our survival.

    That’s what Jacob realised, when he set that stone in place and named nowhere in particular  the House of God.

    Indeed, as I look around the holy sites of Scotland,  the thin places, as George MacLeod of the Iona Community liked to call them, we do not create, but we only discover the connectedness of  holiness. 

    Discover rather then manufacture it.  

    Jacob, in common with prehistoric Scots and so many in the Old testament set up a standing stone to mark the site, but the connectedness, in a place  was there with him or without.

     As is their way, the ancient writers  don’t comment on the validity of the conclusions he jumps to after his dream of the complete interconnectedness of the sky  and the soil,  or ‘Heaven and Earth’ as churchy folk like to put it, which is fine, as long as be do not let Heaven be seen as a science fiction dimension of separateness, rather than including our terrestrial, pedestrian experience of Sky.

    As long as, when we pray in the way that Jesus teaches, [lord’s prayer/Our Father] we do not any more take for granted the integrity of heaven as of Earth. 

    Do we want God’s will to be done as badly in Heaven as we do it on Earth?

    But then the Prophets – it seems pretty well all of them- made that link between injustice and environmental harm that we’ve been content to write off as mere poetry.

     The Psalms may sing presumptively of ‘laws that never shall be broken’  and of the reliability of the cycles and seasons, but it’s all these things that are in danger.

    Which is why, all the more, faith as a dynamic source of hope and of such meaningful  action as is given to each of us, and perhaps to each church, each denomination, has, I’m comforted and encouraged to say,  a value few would dare have claimed until now. 

    The interdependence, the relationship, the partnership with the web of life and the cycles of the Earth,  which is built into the consciousness of the Biblical writers, is daily being reinforced by a culture of science which has long overtaken the brutal human utilitarianism which led even some churches to teach that our species was the purpose of Creation, of which, of course, we’re the pinnacle, and to replace references in some bibles to “all creation” with the minimal “all people”.

      Life isn’t  like that. God’s  rainbow Covenant of Genesis is not just with Noah, but with all flesh: with the Earth.

    I recently checked on the story of how in China, around the time I was born, a campaign to eradicate small birds like sparrows led to plagues of the insects the birds would have eaten. But like so much of our current culture, it’s terrifying to take the risk of moving on from the things you’ve grown up believing you can’t survive without.  

    Which is perhaps why the UK government, disregarding even their own advisors, let alone those of the United Nations are hugely subsidising and issuing licences for new oil and gas. 

    To do so, in this day and age, is like bringing in a contractor to add extra weeds amongst the wheat. Indeed, given the harmful effects of darnel on cattle and people alike, we could be said to be a darnel economy, the enemy of which has begun at last to sow the heat of sustainable energy sources. Of sun, of water,  of wave and tide, of wind and the deep heat of the Earth’ self. 

    In this rather peculiar story of the weeds sown alongside the wheat, the ruler of the farm likewise counsels against a panicky tidiness. 

    Against  throwing out babies with bathwater. Against the desperation which looks for absolute and watertight solutions, rather than transformation of a difficult situation with patience and cunning. 

    Though the mode of patience the church embraced as I was growing up, where wanton procrastination wore the emperor’s clothes of wisdom, has run out of time. 

    As the heatwave here a year ago, and the frightening temperatures of mainland Europe this week will testify.

    Of the various responses in our economy to the nature and climate crisis, none of them are perfect: electric cars need batteries. The sun doesn’t shine at night, and the wind, as Jesus observed, blows when and where they will;  hydrogen, craftily and cleanly made when the grid is overloaded is subject to regulations on transport comparable to those which insisted that early motor cars had to be proceeded by someone on foot waving a red flag.

    But but today’s batteries would have been science fiction ten years ago. Panic works – though only in the sense of being galvanised into ingenious action, rather than paralysed by fear, because  you’ve become dependent on what has to come to an end.

    Discipleship – because it was designed for the powerless, not those in charge – includes a goodly portion of craftiness.

    This is why, the more we’re aware of the crises of nature and climate, the more Christianity comes into its own by fruitful reflection with eyes and ears wide open. 

    As human beings, you have eyes, you have ears, or failing that, you have awareness of one sort or another, and indeed just below the surface, we have various levels of  what have been called ‘fight or flight’.  

    That, not the ownership of the Earth, is God’s gift. “Wake up sleeper” -sang  perhaps the earliest ever Christian hymn.  We’re recycling that once more today.

    But reading familiar stories in radically different circumstances may rightly mean the outcome of our reflections, and the response that follows will differ from the last time round.  get used to that. Celebrate it. Recognise  it as faithfulness.

    What Matthew then  gives is not a definitive interpretation of parable, but a methodology of interpretation rooted in the experience of the hearers.

    And that’s the final connection today, the last ladder in place: don’t be scared of letting the stories of Scripture speak to where we are now, even if that means a leap or two.  


    What else has the church ever done? 

    Be Church! have Fun!

    Get on with it!


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  • Let there be Light! The Blessing of Solar Panels
  • EcoChaplain for Orkney:

    texts ( without accompanying images) for seven events over three Sundays

    PDF of the collection of writings (downloadable)

    PDF of the St Magnus Sermon 9th July(downloadable)

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