Confronting Religious Violence

Not in God’s Name by Jonathan Sacks is next up on my reading list. I see it is the #1 Best Seller in Christian Theology on Amazon. Which is interesting considering the author’s faith…

I wonder if that is  saying something Christians need to hear. The accusation that religion is not part of the solution but part of the problem, because it leads to war, terrorism, violence, oppression and abuse, is a common one. My natural reaction as a Christian leader is to point out that the religion I follow is absolutely not like that, but incarnates the principle of self-giving; and that religion is easily co-opted into war but it isn’t usually the cause of it. But maybe – and this is the strength of Sacks’ book – we have to fess up to the fact that faith often lets itself down and does choose oppressive options; and is also far too easily co-opted by others into actions and attitudes it should never have adopted. We need to do better.

So here’s a cheer for the Archbishop of York’s response, for instance, to the outrage in Tunisia (see text below); for some decent prayers to use tomorrow about it; and let’s take seriously the Huff post survey that more than half of Britons think religion does more harm than good; and the same Huff post’s new series Beyond Belief on fearless Britons who’ve have used their faith to create positive change within their religion. One of the lead stories at the moment on their excellent webpage is, for instance, about a Christian social worker who is helping protect children from Christian abusers. Sometimes we have been part of the problem and we need to say so – and try hard to be part of the solution – and if there is truth in our faith, then we will not be working alone as we do it.

A Statement of Condolence, Empathy and a Call to Prayer

by the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu

I want to express my deep condolences to the families of those British holiday makers who were brutally murdered in Sousse, Tunisia. At times such as these, words can seem so limited and futile in the face of brutality and horror. To the bereaved and to those who were wounded in the attack – you are in the thoughts and prayers of many of us.

My thoughts also go to the family of the manager beheaded by his driver in Lyon, France; and to those murdered and injured in Kuwait.

There is a yearning amongst so many people to respond to these acts, to respond in a way which builds up rather than destroys.

(Read on below the fold).

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Prayers released ahead of Friday’s minute silence for victims of Tunisia shootings

The Church of England has issued four prayers ahead of the time of remembrance on Friday at 12 noon.

you know our hearts and share our sorrows.
We are hurt by our parting from those whom we loved:
when we are angry at the loss we have sustained,
when we long for words of comfort,
yet find them hard to hear,
turn our grief to truer living,
our affliction to firmer hope
in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Lord, have mercy
on those who mourn
who feel numb and crushed
and are filled with the pain of grief,
whose strength has given up
You know all our sighing and longings:
be near to us and teach us to fix our hope on you
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Lord, do not abandon us in our desolation.
Keep us safe in the midst of trouble,
and complete your purpose for us
through your steadfast love and faithfulness,
in Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Our eyes, Lord, are wasted with grief;
you know we are weary with groaning.
As we remember our death
in the dark emptiness of the night,
have mercy on us and heal us;
forgive us and take away our fear
through the dying and rising of Jesus your Son.

The Writing on the Wall

David Thomson:

Better than mine!

Originally posted on Adventures of a little vicar:

I was asking yesterday about radically loving the urban landscape, and today I feel like I encountered some pretty interesting examples of how the urban spaces can be used for social activism – through art work that has a multifaceted purpose: brightening up the area, empowering artists, and sharing important messages. I particularly liked the semiology used in the ‘Wars’ piece that suggests a correlation between consumerist culture and violence. Something to reflect on.


Community Organising is the race between Hope and Fear.

Today, we finally learnt a bit more about what community organisers actually do:

  • building relationships;
  • finding common themes;
  • bringing people together to take action.

Essentially, the methodology focusses on building public relationships with individuals through one-to-one conversations, listening for the common concerns and issues, and then bringing together the community to take action and work united to make a change. There is a focus on achievable tangible…

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How to measure the height of a tower–medieval style

2015-06-29 15.39.57

As part of my Religion and Science sabbatical theme regular readers of this blog won’t have missed my interest in mediaeval bishop-scientist Robert Grosseteste, and in particular – because it’s an area I have some background in – in a fifteenth century treatise on the liberal arts that draw heavily on his writings. The treatise was extended at some point to give extra very practical material on measuring things – rather Scouting for Boys in style, but very necessary given the technological conditions of its age.

A key tool for measuring heights and depths was the quadrant, a quarter section of the more familiar astrolabe as described by Chaucer (the same scribe wrote the manuscript of “my” treatise as wrote some of the Chaucer ones) – and curiously a pocket-size quadrant was found just ten years ago in an excavation at Canterbury, dating from 1338 (you can tell from the astronomical marking used what date is meant for), and saved for the nation by the British Museum where it is now one of their highlights ( Chaucer was born in 1343 so it all fits together rather well!

For fun I’ve printed out the image of the quadrant on card, stretched back to its proper shape, cut it out and made my own. You can see how tiny it is by the old threepenny-bit that got pressed into service as its plumb-weight. And it has to be said that markings are by no means those of a precision instrument; but nevertheless I’ll be having a go at using it. Hope I’m not late for any appointments…

Here’s how my medieval treatise says it can be used to measure the height of a tower:

If ye wil knowe the height of a thyng bi his quadraunt or triangle, behold and considre the hiest part of the thyng thurgh both holis of the quadraunt, and go toward or froward the thyng til the perpendicule plom fal vpon the mydlyne of the quadraunt, that is to say vpon xlv degrees. After this ye shal take the length fro youre eye to the erth and marke the place of your standyng and mesure to the grounde of the thynge that ye mesure, and put therto þe length from your eye to your foote, and al that to guyder shal be the mesure of the altitude that ye wil have, as is shewed in picture.

The essential “picture” or diagram got lost in transmission so here’s one I prepared earlier:


Using the quadrant to sight the top of the object at 45° sets up a pair of similar isosceles right angled triangles, the first of which ABC has sides equal to the height to be measured and second of which FGC has equal sides being the distance from the eye to the ground and the distance from that ground point to the point where the hypoteneuse strikes the ground. Adding the distance between the point beneath the eye and the base of the object (BG) and the distance between the eye and the point beneath it on the ground (FG which equals GC) gives the length BC which is equal to the length AB, QED. And phew!

And who said scientists were boring either?

Tycho Brahe

Bellos also reports the Danish astronomer (and pernickety measurer and calculator) Tycho Brahe had am unsuspected wild side to him (does the moustache giver it away?) He sported a false nose made of gold and silver, the original having being sliced off in a duel (OK, a duel about a formula…), and kept a pet elk (who unfortunately fell to its death one night after drinking too much beer at dinner).

Who said maths was boring?


I’m a words person. I read English at university and do crosswords for fun. So what should I have in common with maths maniacs? Well – reading Alex Bellos’s Alex through the Looking-Glass I was amazed to discover that before peer-reviewed articles as a way establishing “priority”, scientists would write a short sentence about their discovery, make an anagram of it, and send it to their friends, as a sort of one-way code – more or less impossible to crack, but proving the point if it was unravelled by the author.

Galileo was an great exponent of this, bombarding Kepler, no less, with smaismrmilmepoetale v m i b u n u g t t a v i r a s
which unscrambles as
Altissimum planetam tergeminum observari (I have observed the most distant planet to have a triple form – viz. Saturn), and then later
Haec immatura a me iam frustra leguntur – oy
which at least makes a sort of sense in Latin, but is really
Cynthiae figuras aemulatur Mater Amorum (The mother of love [Venus] imitates the figures of Cynthia [the Moon} i.e. has phases – I’m sure you got that straight away…)

But hold on now. Kepler thought the first sentence was to be read as
Salve umbisteneum geminatum Martia proles (Hail burning twin, offspring of Mars – meaning Mars has two moons) and the second as
Macula rufa in Jove est gyratur mathem etc (There is a red spot in Jupiter which rotates mathematically)
– both conjectures that are true but not to be proved until years later.

I therefore propose a new method of discovering novel scientific truths. Anagrammatise the key sentences of Hawking, Cox et al, and wait for the results to be proved. As long as you have a scientific brain the size of Kepler’s that is.

The title of this post anagrams to Atom has shadow wing ribs by the way. I await the scientific meaning of this allusive phrase to be found.

You’re welcome!

North of 2000 people seem to follow my ramblings by one medium or another – and a very varied bunch you are! You’re great! Today’s morning prayer made me realise how much I value you and and your diversity, and how much I pray that we can all carry on being one body.

Romans 14.1-12

Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarrelling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgement on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgement on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honour of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honour of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honour of the Lord and give thanks to God.

We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

Why do you pass judgement on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgement seat of God. For it is written,
‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
   and every tongue shall give praise to God.’
So then, each of us will be accountable to God.

The reading may be followed by a time of silence.