Worshipping the green man


As well as having to use a well-known saying to make a comment about Englishness for my next assignment on the pioneer mission leadership training course, I am required to re-write a biblical story or passage for a sub-culture that I have observed and sought to engage with.  I have chosen to attempt a paraphrase of Colossians 1: 13-22 for my pagan friends.  This is because when I visited a pagan group in Kingston a few months ago, one of them mentioned that they used to meet in a pub with ‘a nice picture of the Green Man’.  Having done some research into the myths surrounding this figure, I had an idea of Jesus as the green man, a pagan symbol of spring and rebirth, present and involved at creation suffering death and resurrection so that we can enjoy life free from the threat of endless winter and futility.  I have, therefore, used a passage which relates Christ’s involvement ‘in the beginning’ (Gen. 1:1) and goes on to talk about what he accomplished for us through his death on the cross.  I have avoided the use of a masculine pronoun for God because this alienates those who acknowledge the feminine in the divine and it is perfectly consistent with scripture to assert that our deity is both male and female (Gen. 1:27). I have also tried to redefine what are well known theological concepts contained in the passage in a language that will resonate with pagans and other spiritual seekers.  So here goes…

The divine spirit whose breath brought forth life in the cosmos has rescued us from the never ending darkness and barrenness of winter.  Rather than the constant chill of death on our bones we can again be dazzled by the brightness of the sun and revel in the warmth and verdant lushness of spring.  This has been actualised through their only offspring, the very incarnation and embodiment of the deity who gave birth to the universe and all that is in it. He was the green man there when it all began, both seeing and participating in the divine act of creating newness and beauty out of nothing – whether tangible in the physical realm or supernatural and invisible requiring second sight to be perceived.   Everything was made for him and he ensures the life force is constantly regenerating the earth’s vegetation, sustaining animal existence and securing human diversity. 

The creative inspiration who initiated all this delighted in giving everything to their heir and planned that we might know him as our own personal spirit guide.  Then we too could have eternal access to the source of all fertility and goodness.  However it could only be achieved by allowing that very offspring, so loved and integral to the continued existence of life on earth as well as that beyond our current experience and understanding, to be sacrificed and die at the hands of the creatures that were made to channel the life-giving energy which set it all in motion.  This was necessary in order that the human capacity for insatiable greed and a rampant desire for domination, which pollutes and distorts our relationship with the natural world and one another could be neutralized and eradicated once and for all by the son’s resurrection.  A definitive moment in time, this event inaugurated a new age characterised by the hope of rebirth for all who seek him out as their guru leading them into all wisdom, peace and reconciliation.

It is amazing how taking a section of scripture we must have a read a hundred times and reframing it for a different audience or purpose brings it alive in new and startling ways!  I hope that maybe having read my paraphrase you too will feel able to celebrate the green man along with me and my pagan companions as we journey together towards experiencing more of Christ.

Is God still an Englishman?


I am currently doing an assignment for the cross cultural mission module of CMS’s Pioneer Mission Leadership Training Course.  For it I had to chose an English saying, reflect on what it tells me about the culture and then think about how the Christian faith might interact with this. I chose ‘don’t count your chickens before they’ve hatched’. Like many enduring proverbs it contains a warning, in this instance not to be hasty in believing you have something of value until it comes to pass or is rightfully yours.  This saying seems to describe the cultural values of modesty in that it dissuades from boasting in something that is not certain and what Kate Fox in ‘Watching the English’ terms the English propensity for ‘Eeyorishness’.  This is a catch all term for our incessant moaning and gloomy demeanour that exemplifies, “our chronic pessimism, our assumption that it is in the nature of things to go wrong and be disappointing, but also our perverse satisfaction at seeing our gloomy predictions fulfilled…”(p.405). 

It was really interesting to see this particular aspect of our worldview in evidence as London has hosted the Olympic Games.  Prior to the start our newspapers were full of stories of things going wrong and not being ready from horrendous queues at passport control in the airports to a lack of properly trained security staff.  We had popular comedy programmes that mocked the most extreme aspects of political correctness involved as well as the potential for disaster that such a high profile event presented.  It was almost as if our collective consciousness was stealing itself for the disappointment of failure ahead!  Yet with the opening ceremony came a collective sigh of relief.   Finally we were able to feel pleased and proud of what we could achieve and actually started to enjoy and bask in the praise and envy of other less fortunate nations!  To top it off we found we were really quite good at competing, won a heap of gold medals, public transport did not grind to a halt and most surprising of all we could be quite warm and friendly to strangers!

So how then does this national tendency toward modesty and negativity give us an opportunity to share Christ?  I think it can present a challenge when put alongside Paul’s exhortation to, “live by faith (Hebrews 10:38)…Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1).”  However, it also reminds me of the story Jesus told that is recorded in Luke chapter 12, verse 16 of a rich man who has such a successful harvest that his barn is not big enough to store all his crops.  So he builds a bigger barn believing he will be well provided for in the future.  But that night he dies and never gets to enjoy the benefits of the wealth he has amassed.  This tale echoes Jesus’s teaching in the beatitudes, “do not worry about your life, what you will eat and drink…Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matt 16:25-26)”  Thus we see false pride and security in material possessions, whether real or just counted upon, should be resisted in favour of trusting God to meet our needs.

The challenge is, for us as the Church in the UK, to live like we believe it when we have so much wealth and privilege.  But I think it is just this sort of authentic lifestyle differential that will earn us the right to “give the reason for the hope we have” (1 Peter 3:15) to our English compatriots.