Responding to violence and fear…


You know what I am referring to. The news, your Facetwitter feed, even good old fashioned communication- it is full of the desperate events that unfolded in Paris over the last couple of days. Violence and murder done in the name of religion. Violence that grew like poisonous funghi in the shadow cast by other violence.

Events like this have the capacity to shape our age, for good or ill. Our response to it should be to preach caution, to encourage a sense of proportion and to remind people of history, so we might learn from it.

People of faith have a particular role to play here, given the centrality of theology as both framing narrative and ideological justification for unspeakable barbarity. The meaning of ancient texts has become so mixed up with tribal identity and weight of injustice that perhaps it is only from within religion that violence can be challenged. I know this as the hard, unyielding condemning religion I grew up with was transformed through thoughtful engagement with a different kind of belief.

Giles Fraser had this to say about the relationship between iconography and religion;

But, of course, these terrorists weren’t really interested in theology. They thought that Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists were insulting their human tribe, a tribe they called fellow Muslims. And maybe they were. But whatever else was happening, it was the atheist cartoonists who were performing the religious function and the apparently believing Muslims who had forgotten their deepest religious insights. For any representation of the divine that leads people to murder each other deserves the maximum possible disrespect.


But back to the point- what should be our response?

I mentioned attempting to retain some perspective. It is so hard to do this when bombarded with so much infotainment/news coverage. Meanwhile extremes are shouted from the margins by those who have a different tribal agenda- Muslims are all evil, as is their religion; we are all under attack from immigrants in our midst; all religion is bad; Christians were right all along etc etc.

Let us remember in this white/anglo-saxon/protestant centric world we inhabit that across much of the planet human life is cheap. The deaths in Paris were tragic, dreadful, appalling. But Yesterday in Nigeria around 2000 people were killed in a different Islamic extremist attack that Amnesty International described as the “deadliest massacre” in the history of Boko Haram. Be honest now- did you know about this? How do you emotionally and intellectually respond?


Then there are the lessons of even recent history (let us not even mention the dreadful colonial legacy that has far more to do with the creation of terrorism than religion ever could have).

Although we have to start there in a way. At the end of Empire, Britain had lived with terrorism for at least 100 years. The transition from colonial territory to autonomous nation has rarely been peaceful; too many artificial borders imposed on disparate peoples, with a history of being on different sides of the many colonially sponsored conflicts. Britain learned the hard way that conventional warfare is never the long term solution to insurgency and terror. Or rather we had to re learn this again and again, treading a path that is remarkably familiar; concentration camps, secret police, propaganda campaigns that leave no room for dissidents, and along the way many a blood bath; Kenya, Zimbabwe, India, Iraq, Afghanistan, Ireland etc etc. Eventually we had to talk to people. We had to turn away from violence and try to make peace in the face of all sorts of provocations.

Ah- but these conflicts were largely about geography, not about ideology, I hear you cry; modern terrorism has no obvious negotiation point; we can not walk away, because it is coming to us- our homes, our streets. It arises internally from our own ethnic minority communities.

I would suggest that there are more similarities than would first appear, it is just that like all post modern movements, terror has globalised. It has worldwide franchises, but power and motivation are still generated in the conflict zones.

After the attack on the World Trade Centre, America declared a war of vengeance. They were quite open about it at the time. Someone had to pay. First Afghanistan was invaded, with a narrative about evil regimes, then on far shakier evidence (later almost entirely discredited) Iraq. Hundreds of thousands died. The bulging prison camps became training grounds for new terror movements. Surveillance and a suspension of the rule of law was seen as justifiable and expedient. To support the war effort successive governments incited fear in a wider public who, in general terms, had probably never been so safe. Has it worked? Can we really regard the world, even the USA as a safer place, a better place?


Here is Owen Jones writing about events in Norway in the wake of their brush with terror;

Three and a half years ago, the far-right Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik bombed Oslo, and then gunned down dozens of young people on the island of Utøya. His rationalisation for the atrocity was to stop the “Islamisation” of Norway: that the Norwegian left had opened the country’s doors to Muslims and diluted its Christian heritage. But Norway’s response was not retribution, revenge, clampdowns. “Our response is more democracy, more openness, and more humanity,” declared the prime minister Jens Stoltenberg. When Breivik was put on trial, Norway played it by the book. The backlash he surely craved never came.

Here’s how the murderers who despicably gunned down the journalists and cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo do not want us to respond. Vengeance and hatred directed at Muslims as a whole serves Islamic fundamentalists well. They want Muslims to feel hated, targeted and discriminated against, because it increases the potential well of support for their cause. Already, there are multiple reports of attacks in France against mosques, and even a “criminal explosion” in a kebab shop. These are not just disgraceful, hateful acts. Those responsible are sticking to the script of the perpetrators. They are themselves de facto recruiting sergeants for terrorists.

As a nation we are vulnerable to many things in these changing and rootless times. Our chances of early death at the hands of an Islamic terrorist are absolutely tiny. Lots of other things that we live with every day will kill thousands of us; our lifestyles, our motor cars. There is a chance that our over consuming will be the end of our kind.

So let us pause, remember with respect those souls who passed and then try to make peace with ourselves and then with our neighbours.

Jar of peace

Peace to you…

She was back this morning- with both of the kids.

I know they are eating my plants (although, as you can see, the grass is overdue for cutting) but they are such beautiful creatures.

I am reminded of one of Justin’s lovely poems- circulated as part of our Aoradh daily meditations-

Peace to you. Peace with you.

You that sleep without resting

Wake without rising, Peace to you.


Peace with you.

You that have grown distant

From the sparrow, Peace to you.


Peace with you.

You that wait in some deep

Valley and know it not yet


As the beginning of a mountain.

May you be wholly and holy

Peaceful and makers thereof.


And while we are on the subject of peace- here is a picture of Michaela and our youngest guest- little Laurie whose parents are staying in the Annexe at the moment.

Charter for compassion

Following on from this post, here is another video relating to an attempt to put together a universal Charter for Compassion.

It attempts to comb together some of the common themes of compassion present in the major religions.

I can hear the cries of horror from certain Christian circles… the fear will be that such a thing might lead somehow to impurity, dilution or syncretism. But I think we have nothing to fear, and so much to gain, through meeting and sharing with people from other faiths.

Particularly in these times…

Remembrance Sunday- and our capacity to destroy…


Today is Remembrance Sunday.

Old men will cry

Women will open up old cupboards of loss and let the sepia light leak out a little

Young kids will be distracted by brass bands for a while then fidget through silence that seems much longer than a minute

Politicians will assume a pose of media-appropriate sombre dignity

Most of us will feel a familiar ambivalence-

War is terrible, but we continue to make war. Peace is a blessing, but we are stirred by stories of gallantry and self sacrifice that only seem possible in the context of brutality and slaughter.

Our inherited memories of the last war are of a nation forged together in terrible adversity in heroic struggle against the rise of pure evil. The fact that we triumphed at terrible cost is for ever something that makes us proud. Those that died so that we might have escaped the fate of so many other countries deserve our deep respect.

But we also know that the story of war is rarely one of good and evil. It is about evil and still more evil.

And evil has a history- it has the big scale history of previous armistice and forced accommodation and compromise. The sort of history that we can read about in books- Empires rising and falling.

But there is also small history that tells the story of how we as humans seem to have such a propensity to breed hate for one another.

How we look at difference and see danger. How we segregate so easily into ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’. How we demonise those people whose prominence threatens our own.

Most of us will have little influence on big histories- and my generation have been blessed to see few of ours names on war memorials. But if we are honest, those same engines for hate and war work within is all.

So this Remembrance Day, let us remember those who fought and died.

But let us also stand in examination of our own failures to follow the way of peace.


A time to hate

There is a time for all things under heaven…

One summer evening I lay on my back as the light leached from the passing day
And watched the stars slowly flicker into the frame of the darkening sky
At first one here, another there
Then all of a sudden the sky was infinite
Full of fragile tender points of ancient light
Some of which started its journey towards us before there was an ‘us’
And I wonder
Is there someone up there
Raising his tentacles to the night sky
And using one of his brains
To wonder about me?

And should this unseen and oddly shaped brother across the huge expanses
Seek contact
What would he make of us?

I heard an astronomer speak once about the possibility of life elsewhere
In this beautiful ever expanding universe
He had come to believe that intelligent life will always
Find ever more ingenious ways
To destroy itself

And I fear the truth of this
That somewhere in the messy beauty of humanity
We nurture an evil seed –
Grow it in an industrial compost of scientific creativity
Water it with greed and avarice
And hot house it in a mad competition for the first fruits
Lest our neighbours get to market first
And once we work up production
There is no going back
No squeezing back the genie into the oil can
There is only the need for bigger, better

And the defending and defeating
And the ranging of rockets
Exploit whoever
Denude wherever
And if anyone should get in the way
Or destroy
Set up barb wire borders
Teach one another
To hate

So for the sake of green men
And Scottish men
May we yet stand before the eternal night
And decide that truth and beauty and grace will be our legacy
In this fragile passing place that God gave us

May we decide that now is not
The time
To hate

From ‘Listing’- here.

how you respond to violence depends on how you choose to understand it…

A quote from some bloke interviewed on radio 4 in relation to the latest terror attacks in India…

Inevitably, the media have been calling this awful event ‘India’s 911’.

The awful thing is that India is not unused to terror attacks- they seem to have been a constant throughout the post-Raj history. Most of these terrible things pass almost unnoticed in the west. Who remembers this from 2006 for example-

A series of seven explosions killed at least 174 people on crowded commuter trains and stations Tuesday evening in the Indian financial capital of Mumbai, police said.

Officials said at least 464 people were injured in the blasts in the city’s western suburbs as commuters made their way home. All seven blasts came within an 11-minute span, between 6:24 and 6:35 p.m. (12:54 and 1:05 p.m. GMT).

Analysts are comparing the attack with the mass transit bombings in Madrid in 2004 and London last year, saying they all involved a series of mutiple blasts and were well-coordinated.

Check out the details here…

These attacks are a little different, as they strike at the heart of India’s elite- the seat of financial power in Mumbai.

Who was responsible? No-one is sure. Al Qaeda has been suggested, although they always are. Religion and it’s power to convince people that the ends are justified by the terrible means always seems to have a part to play (check out earlier post about religious fundamentalism.)

India will blame Pakistan. They always do. And the whole world watches them looking at each other down a nuclear barrel…

Which brings me to my point. What should our response be to such dreadful violence- our personal response, and our collective response?


Britain too has had it’s share of terrorism. For the past 40 years or so, it was related to Ireland. Now we seem to be a breeding ground for a new generation of terrorists who grow up as part of a disaffected  ethnic underclass.

When terrible things happen, there seems that governments have to be seen to ACT. This is one of the ways that democracy works. We want our governments to be active and decisive in the protection of our way of life- or at least governments think we want them to do this.

The debate becomes simple. We are under attack, we must fight back. We must not let them get away with this.

The outcome of this seems to be that Governments in turn are able to justify terrible acts in REACTION.

Almost like revenge. Payback.

A whole language set evolves- that ludicrous term ‘the war on terror’ is but part of this.

America had it’s own dreadful day of terror-


It was a day when the whole world held its breath, and in that instant, history found a fulcrum.

What happened next? Wars in Afghanistan, which once started will now go on, and on.

A war in Iraq, which was sold to members of the public on a set of fears that have now been found to have no basis in truth.

And a suspension of human rights, in the name of international security. State sponsored torture and detention without trial.

Shortly after 911, Brian McLaren wrote an open letter to President Bush. I remember reading it, and feeling proud that Christians-followers in the way of the King of peace- could raise their voices for justice and love and understanding, even in such a time as this. I think that this is our calling.

Never to condone, but always seek to understand. Never to accept that violence is the answer to violence. And that healing is possible, even for the most broken.

I have searched for a copy of Brian McLaren’s letter, to see how what is to be made of it with hindsight, but can’t find it (anyone out there know where I can find it?)

I think that we can already guess what history will remember most about Bush and Blair, and the stain of Guantanamo in a time when imperialism was resurgent.

Against such there is no law…


A continuation of some stuff based around the list of the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians chapter 5.

This poem kind of nods at all the fruit Paul mentions.

You can see the others by clicking on the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ category on the left.

Love is not against the law
Although in judicial circles
It is not encouraged

But where the Spirit of the Lord falls
Love is between us like oil on bearings

Joy is not forbidden
But wherever it breaks out
It is fragile
Like a bubble
In a pine forest

But where the Spirit of the Lord rests
Joy beats like a dancing drum in the middle of us
Calling us to dance

Peace is never prohibited
But like a dove above a shooting range
Its flight is fraught with danger

But where the Spirit of the Lord lives
The boundaries we keep are soft
And we are learning how
To forgive

Patience is permitted in most places
But only if you use it quickly

But where the Spirit of the Lord lingers
Patience is like the summer sun
Drawing out the sugars in the ripening fruit
Sweetening the harvest

Kindness is condoned even in the most unlikely places
But it will win you few contracts
And is not conducive to

But where the Spirit of the Lord comes close
Kindness kind of follows after

Goodness will not result in a jail sentence
But neither will it pay its way
In the global village superstore

But when the Spirit of the Lord smiles
Goodness becomes the common currency
Gentleness is no crime
And in many places it is a clinical necessity
But it is easily overlooked
In the shadow of another conquest

But where the Spirit of the Lord draws near
Then hands all rough from hard works
Become softened to hold
And to heal

Faithfulness is never a traitor
Yet we live like weathervanes
Spun by the seasons
To face the prevailing winds

But when the Spirit of the Lord moves
Promises no longer require the threat
Of legal recourse


Self control is thundered from the pulpit
But just in case the message falls on deaf ears
We deploy the secret pew police
Rule books at the ready
Swinging their
Truncheons of truth
To crunch the knuckles
Of the apostate

But when the Spirit of the Lord comes amongst us
There is a perfect law called…


Emily and Will, somewhere in Wester Ross, 2003

Emily and Will, somewhere in Wester Ross, 2003