On the outskirts of the city of Rome, you will find networks of tunnels dug nearly 70 feet underground. If you have the courage to descend the stone stairs, you will find something even more surprising: some of the first recognisably Christian burial sites in the world. In these catacombs, Christians of the first several centuries buried their dead. The Roman persecutions meant the Christians needed secretive places for burials; only then could they avoid desecration. But the most surprising thing about these ancient tombs is that Continue reading →
Earlier this year, as a practical theologian, I was given the opportunity of presenting at a meeting hosted by the American Geophysical Union. I laid out the case for a close collaboration between theology and geoscience. After my brief presentation, enough interest was kindled for me to be invited to enlarge on my case, since in the words of one delegate, “We as geophysicists have never felt comfortable that theology can contribute anything to our science.” I enlarged on my case, and as I did so I felt encouraged to feel a previous ice age beginning to melt: the ‘ice age’ of science and faith being in conflict. Continue reading →
What Nature taketh away, Nature giveth. Two days of endless rain once again swell the river…which, when it abates, leaves a stranded tide of thousands of edible hazelnuts.
I have noticed that I have again accorded nature a capital letter. What lies beyond the window pane is not anything as neutral or insipid as the ‘environment’. The more time I spend outside…the more certain I become that the living system around me is self-conscious, architected, immense and, ultimately, a verbally ineffable spiritual reality. One can harmonize with Nature – Pan, Creation, Spirit, Mother Earth, call it what you will – but only on its terms. Little Lewis-Stempel, Big God.
I don’t think nature is a person, but all the same John Lewis-Stempel’s experience resonates with me. In his book ‘The Wild Life’ (Black Swan, 2009) he describes how he spent a year living off the land he and his family bought in west Wales, eating only things he foraged, caught or shot in forty acres of rough farmland. This involved spending most of his days outdoors, and as his senses sharpened he tuned into his surroundings – and also into something spiritual. Continue reading →
I have an intense memory of my first lengthy conversation with an artist (also a professor of fine art at my then home university of Leeds) about our respective experiences of bringing to light new work in art and in science. He spoke of his first experimental attempts to realize an original conception, of the confrontation of his ideas with the felt constraints of material—of paint and photographic print, of the necessary reformulation of the original concept, of the repeat of these frustrated assays not once but many times. I found that I could tell the story of almost any programme of scientific research I had experienced in almost precisely the same terms. Continue reading →
Will the argri-tech revolution have the same impact that the green revolution of the 1950’s and 60’s had on farming? Will it help us into a more sustainable and more healthy way of living? As well as improving crop yields, a high-tech approach to farming promises might help farmers take better care of the environment. For example, small autonomous tractors and other equipment could do less damage to the soil and make better use of steep or oddly-shaped fields, or help in areas where only some patches of the soil needs fertiliser or water.
For some farmers, the idea of letting robots loose on the crops might sound like the beginning of the end, Continue reading →
All of us are motivated by something. It might be a desire to succeed, please others, follow a particular ethical framework, or perhaps live in the light of faith. Our motivations underpin what we choose to do with our lives; the causes we care about, the career path we pursue and the relationships we nurture. Such is the case for Dr Darren Evans from Newcastle University, who gave an inspiring talk on Christian motivations for biodiversity conservation at the Faraday Summer School in July 2019. Growing up on a housing estate, Darren was inspired to love nature by watching sparrows nest above his bedroom window and by feeding pigeons! Coupled with becoming a Christian at university, this led him to pursue a career as a conservation biologist. Continue reading →
When asked which was the greatest of the commandments, Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22.37). Mark’s and Luke’s accounts (Mark 12.30; Luke 10.27) also include “and with all your strength.” Part of loving God with our minds is, at least for me, learning more about our minds. This includes learning about how our minds conceive of God, how we can develop habits of mind that might bring us closer to God, and how worship shapes our attitudes and thinking. These are precisely the sorts of things that are studied by psychologists of religion. Continue reading →