Well, that's the sort of title to set the cat among the pigeons.

It sometimes seems impossible to have an intelligent, informed and adult conversation about Europe, it's future and its value. A bit like mentioning immigration in the British press. It could be thought that this isn't the best time to be opening a new conversation about Europe: the news is dominated by the refugee and migrant crisis across the continent, and views vary about what should be done.

But, a new blog – Reimagining Europe – has been launched this week precisely in order to open a different sort of conversation. A wide range of contributors from across the spectrum of opinion has been invited to write. The idea is that people can listen and contribute to a debate that needs to be had. Whatever the future holds and whatever shape Europe takes politically, we will still have to live together in a common continent.

So, this is the church's invitation to a better conversation. Set up by the Church of England and the Church of Scotland, it is a case of the churches creating a new space for another dialogue. I hope it will get around some of the polemical polarisation we have become used to (and weary of) when the question of Europe is posed. As we approach the referendum in due course, this blog should prove useful.

 

The highlight of the annual Edinburgh International Television Festival is almost always the MacTaggart Memorial Lecture. The 2015 lecture was delivered by Armando Iannucci, (as far as I can see) the first 'creative' to have done so for over a decade apart from Kevin Spacey.

This matters. At a time when the BBC is under review – and anyone who cares about it ought to submit a response to the current survey here – Iannucci offers a spirited defence of its uniqueness. Which other country in the world would, as a matter of principle, argue for making its leading world brand a little bit worse by cutting bits off it? There is something peculiarly British about our willingness to pull down anything that has been built up.

So, the timely, important and entertaining lecture can be read here.

Interesting comment can be read here and here. The Sandford St Martin Trust (which I chair) has further links and some useful related material here.

Debate needs to be joined, particularly by those who wish to see the BBC developed and not diminished. And I say that as one who is constantly argues with and about the BBC, especially about religious illiteracy and a certain liberal myopia.

It is worth adding that suspicions about the ideological prejudices of the new Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport are, to my mind, premature. John Whittingdale's responsibility as chair of the Select Committee in the previous regime was precisely to be a Rottweiler and push the hard challenges. He did that well. Now is a different game. We'll see what emerges as the Charter renewal process proceeds.

This is the script of this morning's Pause for Thought on the Chris Evans Show on BBC Radio 2 from Chewton Glen. Twelve couples will be driving the twelve classic cars from here to Cliveden after the show ends. The musical guest is Mark King, epic bassist from Level 42.

Well, here we go. The Dirty Dozen are standing by the cars, ready to rev, and burning to … er … burn up the road to Cliveden.

I've got to tell you, though: they don't look very dirty to me. Maybe I am missing something, but they all look clean and fresh – after knocking back the bacon rolls while the show has been going on.

Yet, I guess 'dirty' is what they are doing, even if dirty doesn't describe their demeanour. Because what they are doing is giving huge amounts of money to help children in need – and that is what we call getting down and dirty where it matters.

I would say that, wouldn't I? I'm a Christian and the whole point of Christian living is to do what Jesus did: get stuck in, down to earth, getting hands and feet dirty where it counts. Not sitting somewhere a million miles above the muck and bullets of real life, but opting right into it and paying the price, if necessary.

So, the Dirty Dozen might be enjoying themselves in the classic cars, but this is because a pile of cash is driving out of their wallets and into children who need to know that they matter, that they are loved, that they are worth getting down and dirty for.

It seems to me that there are two types of people: those who use a car to get from A to B, and those for whom the drive is both the A and the B. And, of course, this isn't the exclusive preserve of motoring: as I read in one of my holiday books, “There are just some kind of men who're so busy worrying about the next world they've never learned to live in this one…”.

So, let the Dirty Dozen drive. And let the children thrive. And let me remember that choosing to get our hands dirty in this world might be a big ask, but it is what we are made for. Drive on, you mucky people.

………………………….

And here is the alternative script I didn't do on the show, but managed to smuggle in nearly a dozen Level 42 song titles:

I just got back from a sunny holiday yesterday. Ten days and I managed to read ten books – not one of them about cars. I am sorry.

But, what a sight this morning as the Dirty Dozen get set to hit the road any minute now. I can't see Prince's Little Red Corvette or Bruce Springsteen's Pink Cadillac … or, for that matter, the Clash's Brand New Cadillac. But, in my head I can hear the Beatles imploring us to Drive My Car – and, yes, I do know it is a euphemism.

It seems to me that there are two types of people: those who use a car to get from A to B, and those for whom the drive is both the A and the B. And, of course, this isn't the exclusive preserve of motoring: as I read in one of my holiday books, “There are just some kind of men who're so busy worrying about the next world they've never learned to live in this one…”.

Somehow these have to be held together, don't they? Concern for the destination matters – otherwise we just drive round in circles, going nowhere and literally killing time; but, the journey is as important as the arriving. In other words, the living – and how we live it – can't be cut off from the question of what we are living for.

Standing in the light of this recognition, we can happily drive into the sun. All around there are clouds, yes, but, all I need is to take a look and discover that heaven is in my hands. Not somewhere over there, but here. I don't need to build myself a rocket to get away from here; here is where the true colours are to be found and seen.

Does that sound a bit cryptic? Well, basically, Jesus once said that he was here so that we might live life in all its abundant fullness: not just for self-satisfaction, but so that everyone might thrive – that's why it is in our hands to sacrifice ourselves so that others (especially, perhaps, the children in need) might thrive.

So, let the Dirty Dozen drive!

 

So, the BBC is being hounded again as if the producers are leftie, hand-wringing imbeciles. Songs of Praise is coming from Calais, and some people don't like it. Nothing to do with the French, of course.

Songs of Praise usually gets slagged off for being … er …Songs of Praise. Often the critique is that it is bland or anodyne. Well, not now it isn't.

The decision to record in the Jungle of Calais, right at the heart of where migrants are trying desperately to find a new life in a place of safety, is absolutely the right one. There are two reasons for this:

  1. Christian Faith is about God in the real world, not relegated to some imaginary fairy land where it can't do any harm or embarrass anyone. The Psalms – the hymn book Jesus used – are full of lament, question, anger, frustration and challenge: why do the rich always prosper, why are the dice always loaded in favour of the powerful, why do the oppressors seem to get away with it? In other words, faith impacts on politics.
  2. Worship, as suggested above, does not happen in the abstract. It pours out of hearts and minds and bodies and mouths of real people – often where the realities of life are the most difficult. The Incarnation – seen particularly in the cross of Calvary – is about God opting into the reality of human life and suffering and not exempting himself from it. He comes to where the pain is most acute and does not turn away.

So, why does broadcasting from Calais cause such a wild reaction? Part of the answer lies in the ideological drum being banged by those – particularly in the media – who want to sell off the BBC and turn it into just another media outfit. Stuff the world reputation and its inherent value. But, I wonder if Calais is just too difficult for us when we feel human compassion, but intuit its clash with political preference.

If we don't like being exposed to worship from Calais, then it is for us to face the hard question of why – not simply to project this on to the soft target of the BBC.

The BBC is doing precisely what it is there for – something no other channel would do, probably. Instead of being dissed, the BBC and its producers of Songs of Praise should be praised for doing their job and doing it well.

(I have just seen Steve Chalke's good piece on the same theme here.)

 

Five days into August already and still haven’t got through a single one of the books lined up for the catch-up month. Oh well.

It could be this that is narking me; but, on the other hand, it might be that the world is going mad.

Three things for starters:

1. Apparently, the Minister for Local Government is going to write to the bishops of the Church of England today asking us to support longer Sunday trading hours. According to the Daily Telegraph, the letter will say:

The government has been determined to revive our nation’s high streets to ensure they remain the heartbeat of our communities for decades to come. High streets provide the social, cultural and essential services so many local people enjoy and rely on.

As the law stands, only the smallest shops are allowed to open for more than six hours on a Sunday, a law which came into force in 1994 after a long struggle by the business community.

The justification (according to news reports – we haven’t actually received the promised letter yet) is that this will limit supermarkets and revive the high street. The aim is noble – consider the action by dairy farmers yesterday: it costs them more to produce milk than they get when it is sold. But, this, once again, confirms that we have become a market society, driven by consumer economics, rather than a market economy, driven by the need for the economy to serve society. In other words, we now define our society in purely economic terms.

The alternative would be to restrict Sunday trading rather than expand it. This would restore to society the notion of a common sabbath and create space for common rest – the possibility for remembering who we are and why we are here. We are not born to shop.

A losing battle, maybe; but one worth scrapping over for the sake of questioning what sort of a society we wish to be, rather than simply (and unquestioningly) accepting the society we have become.

2. In a classic example of loaded reporting, the Guardian draws attention to consideration in Wales for re-shaping the teaching of Religious Education in schools. This is how the article begins:

For a long time, religious education has been about as unloved and neglected as a crumbling old church. Several people and organisations (some, admittedly, with a vested interest in its continuation) have warned in recent years that it has never been more needed, and this week it emerged that the Welsh government is considering an overhaul of the subject.

Huw Lewis, the Welsh government’s minister for education and skills told the Cardiff parliament that RE should be renamed, “[transforming] it into the religion, philosophy and ethics element of the curriculum – where there is an explicit commitment to allowing children to ponder ideas around ethics and citizenship”. He added: “We really need to allow young people the space and the time, within the school curriculum, to consider fundamental issues of faith and of citizenship and of the meaning of freedom.”

RE, long seen by many pupils as being at the dossy end of school subjects, has suffered over the years. A 2013 report by Ofsted found that more than half of schools were failing to teach the subject adequately

How many untested attestations does that contain? Staggering. How long is “a long time”? Where is the evidence that is has been unloved and neglected? Why compare it to a “crumbling old church” rather than a crumbling something else? Which organisations have a “vested interest in its continuation” – and why “admittedly”?

Is it not conceivable that the “vested interest” might be an intelligent argument or interest for the sake of the common good? Is it not remotely possible that, at a time when we need more religious education in order to understand the world and its people, we should be arguing for better teaching and learning rather than the dilution of it? Does “long seen by many pupils as being at the dossy end of school subjects” reflect simply the rather embarrassing prejudices of the journalist who wrote this stuff? Shouldn’t we expect better (of both RE teaching and journalism)?

If numbers fall because teaching is poor, then, surely, the answer is to improve the teaching and learning. As the media trust I chair keeps arguing in the sphere of broadcasting, we need more religious literacy in this conflicted world, not less. Popularity has little to do with it.

3. Giles Fraser redeems the Guardian by concisely putting his finger on a key question that is – understandably – annoying the government. Migration (inwards only) was a vexed matter during the general election. If media reporting is accurate, then immigration (and how to stop it) is a major concern for ordinary Middle Englanders, and politicians ignore it at their peril. Well, ‘majority opinion’ does not necessarily equate to ‘right opinion’. It is only a generation or two ago that German opinion was happy to see Jews and other minorities as sub-human and expendable.

Fraser recalls the difficult and embarrassing question Jesus put to people who probably didn’t like the implcit answer: “Who is my neighbour?” Those who have done RE in school will know that this follows the parable of the Good Samaritan. It was also the title of the pastoral letter issued by the bishops of the Church of England ahead of the last election – which the government (then and now) deepy resented.

But, the question hangs in the air like a bad smell. Get beneath the rhetoric around immigration and we cannot avoid the fundamental challenge: what is our theological anthropology? In other words, what is a human being and why does he/she matter?

That is the question that underlies all the conflicted rhetoric about immigration.

The other question is one that will not go away: is there a strategy behind policy in this regard, or are we condemned to constantly respond to the latest and loudest voice or situation? And what is the anthropological assumption from which policy emerges? And isn’t it important that someone keeps asking the awkward questions about human significance when justifications for action seem only to be economic?

Sorry, that’s three questions.

This is the text of this morning's Pause for Thought on the Chris Evans Show on BBC Radio 2 with Brian Cox, John Lloyd, Rebecca Front and Nerina Pallot in the studio.

We have lots of foreign visitors to stay with us. Last night we had some friends from Switzerland and it was great to see them. Last week we had a family from the United States and I took them to Liverpool for a day so they could get some culture. It was funny to see them standing outside the barber shop at Penny Lane and know the soundtrack that was running through their heads. (I used to get my hair cut in that shop when I was a kid.)

What was great was that their curiosity grew as we saw the sights of my home city and wandered round the museum of curios peculiar to Liverpool. When you are actually there, questions arise that weren't anticipated from seventy miles away. It's as if you have to get on the move for curiosity to get awoken and imagination to be teased.

I think this is how children live and learn: constant undisciplined questioning and unbridled wondering about the world and taste and smell and touch and sight and sounds. They don't need telling that the world is full not only of sound and fury, but also of still small voices that penetrate the noise and tickle the soul. Sometimes, when you are in the thick of it, the fires of imagination burn only dimly; but they can't be extinguished.

This might sound odd, but I think curiosity is the key to enjoying and understanding the world. When Jesus told his bemused mates that they'd have to become like children if they were to live in his world, I think this is what he was on about. Children never stop asking questions, pointing out embarrassing truths, wanting to know “why” all the time. It does your head in, but it is in enjoying the wondering that curiosity wakes up and we go on a journey of imagination. In fact, this is what drives science.

Well, knowing me and possibly knowing you, I guess this might just ring a bell. If, as Christians believe, we are made in the image of a curious and questioning God, then we'd better make the most of it. I'd rather be a curious questioner than a frustrated superstar who thinks he's got it all nailed.

 

 

This is the script of this morning's Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2's Chris Evans Show with Sara Cox and guests: Gabby Logan, Josh Gad and Lianne LaHavas. (There are ten of Liane's song titles and a reference to the work of Josh Gad and Gabby Logan for good measure.)

Well, I might as well announce it to the nation: my daughter has just had a baby. He's called Joseph and he's tiny and I love him. He's got a head of dark hair and he left me tongue-tied.

I nearly cried when I held him. I did get teary when I saw my daughter and son-in-law in the hospital and felt the unstoppable love that gets behind the emotional defences that often protect us from hurt. No room for doubt here: love can be elusive, but it's impossible to forget and you can never get enough of it.

Which bears thinking about when you watch the news and feel the misery. Yet, in the midnight of pain it's the daylight of wonderful love that keeps breaking through, catching us unawares and reminding us of our fragility and challenging our selfishness.

There are people who think that love is something merely romantic or soppy. I mean, it is great when it is romantic; but, love is much more than that. I would give my life for my kids and grandchildren (Joseph completes the hat-trick) because love goes deeper than anything else. When I did my daughter's wedding in Croydon some years ago, I remember looking at the gifts wrapped in paper covered in love hearts. I asked if this is really the best we can do as an icon of love. The icon of love I turn to is a man with his arms stretched out on a cross, embracing a world that couldn't handle him and demonstrating that love is never cheap. Christian faith is born of blood – costly love … as, of course, is the love that leads to a painful labour and childbirth.

I guess my question to myself this morning is this: Is your love big enough? Or do I settle for an imitation that costs less or is more convenient? Anyone who has loved will also bear the scars – because love can sometimes hurt.

Anyway, with a nod to the Beatles, “you can't buy me love”; but, with a nod to Josh Gad, our hearts do not need to be frozen. And that, Gabby, is the final score.

 

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