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Parish Magazine Article - June 2023

Dean of Hereford The Very Revd Sarah Brown with Hereford cathedral in background

On stripping the chameleon

I like the idea of chameleons –clever lizardy things that allegedly blush camouflage green when they are tongue-lassoing bugs in a bush, or come over all dusty beige when they are skulking in a sandpit (look out toddlers!) or exude an apeeling (sorry) oranginess when they are snoozing in a basket of satsumas. (I cannot help but wonder what a chameleon would make of my granny’s rose print patchwork quilt - but that is an experiment for another day when I can catch one.) My point is that they adapt to the environment in which they find themselves and survive because of it.  Unless you are hoping to be rescued by mountain rescue being an orange lizard, (or even a pink skink) in the snow is a high-risk strategy. Blending in is much safer.

We do it too. Not literally but socially. Most of us adapt our behaviour, language and the image that we present to the world so that we fit in with those around us or with their perceptions of us. Sometimes it is about what we look like and what we own, sometimes it is about how we talk, sometimes it is about keeping our real opinions quiet to avoid the disapproval of others.  The Church has been blending in to not upset the world for decades and is at risk of blurring into the social wallpaper as a result and look at all the “shy Conservatives” in elections over the last ten or 15 years or the lifelong Christians who don’t even tell their best friends that they love Jesus. Sometimes we join in with things we don’t enjoy in order to blend in. And mostly we know when we are doing it and remain essentially ourselves.

But what if the normally khaki chameleon is made to live its whole life in a purple box and forced against its nature to be forever aubergine? For some people the pressure to be a certain way is like that. It is true captivity, even oppression, when people live their whole lives to fulfil other people’s expectations and it can result in serious health and social problems.

If you are someone who lives as a captive chameleon in thrall to someone else or to society, history or a set of circumstances have a go at asking God for courage to be yourself. Read Psalm 139 and see how well God knows the real you and how he wants you to live your life in all the fullness he created you for. There is only one opinion that matters. His.

And for all you brilliantly well-adjusted geckos out there the real question is how we deal with the different, the difficult and the desperate. The answer, of course, is with love.


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