Friday, 28 June 2013

St Alban: Protomartyr of Britain

Today I visit St Alban's for the first time, taking Y8. The Abbey there is home to St Alban and it reminded me of something I wrote for a website on 'English Heros':

Saint Alban was the first British Christian martyr.

To understand his importance for England, it is important to remember that many have called for him to replace St George as the patron saint of England, or even as Britain as a whole.

Alban was a pagan living at Verulamium (now St Albans), who converted to Christianity, and was executed by decapitation on a hill above the Roman settlement of Verulamium. St Albans Abbey was later founded near this site.

The date of Alban's execution has never been firmly established, although The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles lists the year 283.

His crime?

Alban sheltered a Christian priest in his home, and was converted and baptised by him. When the Roman soldiers were sent to Alban's house to look for the priest, Alban exchanged cloaks with the priest and was arrested in his stead at Chantry Island. Alban was taken before the magistrate, who was furious at the deception and ordered that Alban be given the punishment due to the priest if he had indeed become a Christian. Alban declared, "I worship and adore the true and living God who created all things." These words are still used in prayer at St Albans Abbey.

St Alban was eventually sacrificed to the Roman gods and was condemned to death. He was taken out of the town across the River Ver to the top of the hill opposite. The reputed place of his beheading is where St Albans Cathedral now stands.

St Bede tells several legends associated with the story of Alban's execution. On his way to the execution, Alban had to cross a river, and finding the bridge full of people, he made the waters part and crossed over on dry land. And the executioner was so impressed with Alban's faith that he also converted to Christianity on the spot, and refused to kill him. Another executioner was quickly found (whose eyes dropped out of his head when he did the deed), and the first was killed after Alban, thereby becoming the second British Christian martyr.

His shrine in St Alban's Cathedral

St Alban's Cathedral website reads: "Ever since those early times, people have journeyed to this place to remember Alban and all that he stands for. They have come to pray for peace and healing and to seek God. They came in such numbers in the early middle ages that St Albans became the premier Abbey in all England. They come here still."

England has a history of matyrdom, it is something that littered our history books. There have been protestants killed by catholics, catholics killed by protestants, and all other nature of early Christians willing to die for their faith. Perhaps it is something to do with our English-ness that we are ready to die for what we believe in? St Alban was just the first of literally thousands who have died over the last 1800 years in England for their Christian faith. I do think the calls for him to be our true patron saint are very well founded indeed.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Religion: Cause Of Evil, Not Force For Good?

The headline from a recent YouGov poll gave two key facts about young people in Britain:
  • Religious figures have the least influence on their lives.
  • More say religion is a force for evil than a force for good.
The 2011 Census suggested 59% of the population defined themselves as Christian and just 25% said they had no religion, but it seems that when looking at 18-24 year olds there is a very different picture.

Friends and family obviously dominated the question about who had most influence on their lives but only 12% feel influenced by religious leaders, which was far less than politicians (38%), brands (32%) and celebrities (21%).

Religion's reputation also seems to have suffered with young people, 41% agree that “religion is more often the cause of evil in the world” and only 14% say it is a cause for good.

When asked if they believe in God, only 25% said they did; 19% believed in some non-Godlike “spiritual greater power” and a further 38% claimed no belief no God or spiritual power whatsoever.

Amongst believers, the most represented denominations were Church of England (13%), then Roman Catholic (9%) and Muslim (4%).

The Huffington Post reported that A Church of England spokesperson said: "It is unsurprising that this sample of less than 1,000 people gives a different result than a Census of tens of millions of people. Even then these figures show more people choosing belief over non-belief."
Do you think this is an accurate picture? Do you think that 18-24 year olds are 'less religious' than the rest of the population? Why? Do you think their views are heavily influenced by the media? Do the the media portray a 'fair image' of religion? Why/not?

Read more at: &

Monday, 17 June 2013

5y/o Peace Campaigner vs Westboro Baptist Church

Jayden Sink is the 5 year old daughter of Jon, who runs a philanthropic arts group called Fresh Cassette. After being told that the church across the street had a message of hate, she decided to set a goal of raising money to instead go towards a message of love and peace.

The Equality House stands across the road from Westboro Baptist Church's Kansas headquarters. It is owned by a group called Planting Peace who are a non-profit organisation dedicated to spreading goodwill and equality.

She put up a sign "Pink Lemonade for Peace: $1 Suggested Donation." and literally hundreds of people came and supported her. All money raised goes towards Planting Peace.

However the Westboro Baptist Church tried to shut her down, even calling the police and then shouting obscenities at those who arrived to support Jayden.

“Jayden represents the natural humanity we are born with," said Davis Hammet, Director of Operations at Planting Peace, "We come into this world compassionate, caring beings and only become hateful if we are taught to be.”

Donate <here>
Read more <here>

Why do you think as Christians the Westboro Baptist Church is so filled by hate? Do you think this act was deliberately antagonistic? Why do you think they had such a problem with the young girl selling lemonade?

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Tweeting from the Afterlife?

Are you addicted to Twitter? Is it the first thing you do in the morning? And the last thing at night? Would you want to keep on Tweeting even after you died?

_LIVESON are now offering just this service. It takes over your Twitter account after you have died, so you can 'live on' in cyberspace. It "analyses your main twitter feed. Learning about your likes, tastes, syntax.". It will start Tweeting while you are still alive in order for you to give it feedback, to make it Tweet more like you!

AS ABC News point out, this is just one of the odd things concerning people now about their 'social media afterlife':

"Questions about who owns your social media and Internet accounts after you pass away have swirled for years. New Hampshire State Rep. Peter Sullivan introduced legislation to allow the executor of an estate control over the social networking pages of the dead. There have been similar questions about who owns your iTunes or other media downloads."

Dave Bedwood, the creator of the _LIVESON service, says “This to me, this is no weirder than any afterlife that has been promised by organised religion, or hell that has been threatened... It’s just a sign of our times, lets explore that.”

Would you want to 'live on' on social media after you die? How your friends and family feel? Would it be comforting or disturbing? Do you agree with Bedwood that this is no weirder that what Christianity teaches?

Visit _LIVESON: <here>
Read more: <here>

Monday, 10 June 2013

The 'Mathematics' of Immigration

A spoken word poem by Holli NcNish has been doing the rounds on social media in the aftermath of the murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich. People wanted a response and a reason to still fight for community cohesion.
In Hollie's own words:
"A poem about immigration, based on a guy I used to have to listen to when I worked in a clothes shop. The poem owes a lot to a book by economist Philippe Legrain called Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them: It's a good book, I wish we had it on the school curriculum."

The full lyrics can be found on the YouTube page: - it ends poignantly, "And most times immigrants bring more than minuses."

Do you agree? Do you think the 'mathematics of immigration' are often made up? Who is to the blame? The media? How do you think the 'true value' could be shared?

Read more about Hollie here:
Buy the track here:

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Tea, Biscuits & Conversation to Combat Extremism

The tragic death of Lee Rigby in Woolwich on 23rd May 2013 resulted in a state of disbelief for many in the UK. In broad day light, a loyal soldier was murdered by two men claiming to be acting in the name of Islam.

While thoughts and prayers were directed to the Lee Rigby's young family, there was also worry about the results of such a murder. Revenge and retribution were on the minds of some, the association of all Muslims with the attack was on the minds of others.

The EDL and the BNP are two organisations that looked to capitalise on these events to drive forward their agenda. They saw this an opportunity to divide communities further, something which was condemned by Rigby's family.

Russell Brand said on his blog:

"What the English Defence League and other angry, confused people are doing and advocating now, violence against mosques, Muslims, proliferation of hateful rhetoric is exactly what that poor, sick, murderous man, blood soaked on a peaceful street, was hoping for in his desperate, muddled mind.

The extremists on both sides have a shared agenda; cause division, distrust, anger and violence. Both sides have the same intention. We cannot allow them to distort our perception."

Indeed many argue the best way to react to such an event is to increase understanding of the people living in our communities, learn more about what it is that motivates one another, listen to each others concerns and worries.

One story which demonstrated this so well was that of the York mosque (pictured above). They were told that an EDL protest was going to take place outside their place of worship.

Imam Abid Salik said: "We did have a few people who did come to protest but when they came some of the members of the mosque went over and they engaged in a conversation.

"Some people went over with cups of tea and biscuits, they were talking for about 30 or 40 minutes and then they came inside, which was a really, really beautiful thing."

Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu said the mosque's response was "fantastic" and that "Tea, biscuits, and football are a great and typically Yorkshire combination when it comes to disarming hostile and extremist views."

Read more here:

Do you agree that this is the way forward? How can people be encouraged to do this? How can organisations like the EDL be challenged on their views? What can organisations like Hope Not Hate do to help communities?