This is the script of this morning’s Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2’s Chris Evans Show:

A few years ago I found myself in the Foreign Ministry of a Middle Eastern country having what we would probably call a robust conversation with the deputy foreign minister of that state. At one point he stood up, banged the table and said: “Sometimes it seems there is no light at the end of the tunnel. But, it is not because the light is not there – it is because the tunnel is not straight.”

I have never forgotten that. I admit that when I mentioned this recently someone responded by saying that the light in the tunnel might actually be the oncoming train. But, taking a more positive view, I think it is helpful to recognise that sometimes life is pretty complicated and messy, and that the present darkness isn’t the end of the story.

This month of all months this should be clear. Our Jewish brothers and sisters celebrate Hanukkah, and they do so with candles and lights. Christians are living through Advent – which, even in the word itself, is about waiting and not running out of the darkness in order merely to escape it.

There’s a great Bruce Cockburn song called ‘Closer to the light’ which actually focuses on the dark stuff. In a different song he says: “Sometimes the best map will not guide you; sometimes the darkness is your friend.” I think as I get older I understand this more and more. Rather than look for instant escapes from difficulty or challenge, I try to stay with the reality, trusting that even though the tunnel is not straight, … the light will come and, in the words of John’s gospel that will be read at Christmas, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

A different way of putting this was told to me by a guy who said: “When you’re in the desert, look for the flowers that grow only in the desert.” What he meant was: if you spend your time in the desert looking for daffodils, not only will you be disappointed, but, you will also miss out on what could be experienced or learned only in the desert.

This isn’t easy or romantic, is it? But, I do think it’s powerful.

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A cursory glance at social media makes it clear that there is huge concern – across political and cultural divides – about the degeneration of public life, behaviour and language. It is not hard to see why.

Against the explosion of sexual harassment claims (which exposes decades of ‘normal’ behaviour that went unchallenged because of its normality), we also see an eruption of trial by media. I have little sympathy for those who find themselves caught out, but do worry about those who are innocent, but now find themselves tried and sentenced by allegation. There must surely be implications for what I am calling the integrity of the public discourse.

But, we now have a US President who is a proven liar, misogynist and sexual predator (by his own taped evidence), and he continues in power. The lying and misrepresentation does not appear to disturb those who would have strung up previous presidents for just one faux pas. Lying and misrepresenting have become normalised. And there is no penalty.

Yesterday the Brexit Secretary, David Davis, told a House of Commons committee that the 57 Brexit impact assessment papers do not exist. In October these not only existed, but went into what he described as “excruciating detail”. When Parliament demanded sight of them, a highly secretive bunch of papers was eventually submitted to a limited audience – deemed by readers on all sides to be statements of the obvious. This turn of events should, at the very least, be deeply concerning.

The question here is not about the apparent (or should that be ‘alleged’) incompetence of the government in driving the negotiations for the UK’s departure from the EU, but the fact that someone up there is misleading not only Parliament, but the British public. This is not about whether or not we should be leaving the EU; this is not about whether the government is going about its work in the right way or competently; this is not about democracy, parliamentary sovereignty or the legitimate confidentiality demanded by sensitive process; this is about the normalisation of corruption (which, in terms of language, is no less serious than in other ethical matters), the easy acceptance of lying and misrepresentation by a bewildered public, and the implications for civil society (as well as what we teach our children by word and example) of allowing language to be debased, facts to be dismissed in the face of ‘alternative truths’, and for this to be done with such casual impunity.

I have lots of conversations with concerned politicians and journalists about the corruption of the political discourse. I am less sure what to do about it other than to challenge it and try to demonstrate a different way. This goes deeper than “speaking out”.

Any ideas?

A few weeks ago I interviewed author Clinton Heylin on his new book Trouble in Mind in which he recounts Bob Dylan’s Gospel years (1979-81). Dylan produced three albums of varying quality: Slow Train Coming, Saved and Shot of Love.

As we discovered, you can’t speak of Dylan without speaking of mortality, humanity and the stuff of life and death.

And bishops don’t spend all their time in church.

This is the script of this morning’s Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2’s Chris Evans Show:

What day is it today? Wednesday? Just ‘Wednesday’? It can’t be – I thought every day now has to have a tag: Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Buy-more-stuff Saturday, and so on. So, surely, today can’t be just ‘Wednesday’, can it?

Well, I just had a quick look online to see if today is significant for any other reason in history, and this is what I found: in 1775 Sir James Jay invented invisible ink. (Not that anyone noticed as they couldn’t read the press release …)

See what I mean? Not a great day – ever – in history. The sooner we get through to St Andrew’s Day tomorrow, at least the Scots will be happy.

Or have I got this wrong? I think we try to bring order and significance to dates, looking for patterns and sequences, but the truth is that one day follows the next and most days are very similar to the days that have gone before them. In other words, most days are ordinary – the everyday is what matters, not the rare dramatic excitements.

I once published a book of scripts and called it ‘Speedbumps and Potholes: Looking for Signs of God in the Everyday’. I bent the title from an Asian thinker called Kosuke Koyama who wrote a book called ‘Water Buffalo Theology’ in which he says that westerners do their theology (that is, thinking about God, the world and us) sitting in a university library reading dead German theologians … whereas in the East they start by looking at the world around them … and everywhere you look there are water buffalo.

Well, I was living in Streatham in South London. There were no water buffalo to be seen anywhere; but, life was shaped by dodging speedbumps and potholes in the roads where we lived.

The point is simple. Most days are routine – sometimes boring – but I reckon the knack is to take the everyday as a gift and look for signs of God in the ordinary … for example, where there is healing, or where people hear for the first time that they are loved and infinitely valuable, where injustice is confronted and truth told.

Today might turn out to be wholly unremarkable – just like any other day. Yet, it can be shot through with light and hope and grace and generosity. It’s our choice.

Happy Nothing Wednesday!

Between 2004 and 2009 I visited Zimbabwe a number of times. The first visit exposed me to some of the realities and challenges of a beautiful country that Robert Mugabe and ZANU PF were turning into a nightmare. By my final visit inflation was around 10,000%, unemployment was sky high, and the bread basket of Africa had become a basket case.

I visited because the Diocese of Southwark (where I was the Bishop of Croydon) had longstanding partnership links with the Anglican dioceses in Zimbabwe. Croydon was linked with Central Zimbabwe, and I developed a friendship (based on huge admiration) with the Bishop, Ishmael Mukuwanda. I posted on this blog many times from and on Zimbabwe – simply put it in the search box and loads should come up.

So, watching the news now is heartening to an extent. At last, action has been taken to rid this country of its liberating tyrant and his Lady Macbeth wife whose name – Grace – is not matched by her character. It is no wonder that thousands of people are celebrating in the streets and that the Party is thought to be ready to dismiss Mugabe as party leader tomorrow. There can be no going back.

But, to what might the country be going forward? This is the hard question. It is easy to celebrate the end of Mugabe’s reign; but, what will now follow? Freedom from is not the hard bit; freedom to or for demands far more.

Ten years ago I was clear that the key to Zimbabwe’s future had to be the reestablishment of the rule of law – not just any law, but law as internationally recognised. Without the rule of law, nothing could be relied on. And, yet, now, we see the dethronement of Mugabe … but only by his own party. The same party will appoint a new leader, and this leader will continue the rule of ZANU PF. It will take someone brave or reckless to bring democracy back to Zimbabwe; in the meantime, Mugabe’s departure will not change much at all in terms of who is in charge, how they will run the country, and whose interests will be protected.

Clearly, today is for celebrating an ending. But, tomorrow will bring a beginning. And that beginning will probably be a continuing of what has gone before. It is too early to celebrate a new world for the wonderful people of this wonderful country. What we can be sure of, however, that the Anglican Church, with all its fallibilities and fragilities, will keep on plugging away imaginatively and creatively, serving communities and people in quiet, unsung ways, silently tilling the ground for a harvest they believe will one day come.

It has been announced this morning by 10 Downing Street that the new suffragan [area) Bishop of Ripon in the Diocese of Leeds is the Rt Revd Dr Helen-Ann Hartley.

Bishop Dr Hartley who is 44, is at present Bishop of Waikato in New Zealand, an office she has held since 2014. At the time she was the first woman priest ordained in the Church of England to become a bishop. She succeeds Bishop James Bell who retired earlier this year.

I am delighted to welcome Bishop Helen-Ann Hartley. She brings expertise as a theologian, and episcopal experience from the wider Anglican Communion. She will add great strengths to the leadership and ministry of this diocese.

She will be welcomed and installed in the diocese at Ripon Cathedral on February 4, 2018.

Helen-Ann was born in Edinburgh in 1973 and grew up in north-east England. She is the fourth generation of her family to be ordained, and was priested in 2005 in the Diocese of Oxford.

She worked as one of a team ministering to 12 rural parishes in Oxfordshire before being appointed as the Director of Biblical Studies and a lecturer in the New Testament at Ripon College Cuddesdon, near Oxford.

Helen-Ann, with her husband Myles who is a musician and church organist, went to New Zealand in 2010 to undertake research at St John’s College – and returned there in February 2011 to take up the position as Dean. In 2014 she became joint diocesan bishop of the Diocese of Waikato and Taranaki, unique in the Anglican Communion with two equal bishops sharing jurisdiction across the whole of the diocese. The New Zealand diocese, like the Diocese of Leeds, is also unusual in having more than one cathedral.

Bishop Helen-Ann says she was surprised but excited to be invited to be the next Area Bishop of Ripon. “I am excited, delighted, surprised and deeply humbled by the call to take up the role of the Bishop of Ripon,” she says. “I look forward to getting my feet on the ground, listening and learning, and helping to root and grow the vision that Bishop Nick has for the Diocese of Leeds in the Ripon Episcopal Area. I rejoice in joining a dynamic episcopal team, and look forward immensely to working alongside my brother bishops.”

She added, “Both my husband Myles and I have firm roots in the north: Myles in Cumbria, and myself in the north-east. Returning to the north, and to the beautiful North Yorkshire Dales brings with it a deep sense of coming home, and I thank God for this call.”

Bishop Hartley also brings with her from New Zealand considerable experience of rural ministry in a Diocese that she says bears many similarities to the Ripon Episcopal Area. The Diocese of Waikato and Taranaki is large (18,000 square miles), and is sustained by the economies of farming, tertiary education, and tourism.

On the day of the announcement, November 9, Bishop Helen-Ann’s itinerary includes a visit to a farm near Skipton.

Bishop Helen-Ann said, “ I have witnessed the immense value of the role of churches in rural communities, and their often creative and innovative ways of responding to community needs, often in tough times when the dairy payout is poor or when drought or even too much rain cause great difficulties for farmers. With my feet on the ground, I have relished the opportunities to engage in God’s mission with all its joys and sorrows, amidst the praise and lament of life so eloquently expressed in the Psalms.”

With her background in theological education a particular focus for Bishop Helen-Ann has been encouraging and supporting of lay ministry and training. Looking for suitable discipleship courses for both urban and rural churches, she has developed a course of her own, Living Faith Today (known as LiFT).

Bishop Helen-Ann says another of her keen interests is Education. During her introduction to the Diocese on November 9 she also visits Richard Taylor Church of England Primary School in Harrogate meeting teachers and pupils. She said, “I have enjoyed supporting our Anglican schools, encouraging them in their work, and getting alongside the pupils and sharing in their lives (which has included activities like mountain biking and surfing [which I was not very good at!]). Sometimes all it takes is a mustard seed for the Kingdom of God to take hold.

“I hope that I have planted some seeds which in due course God will help flourish! It is wonderful that there will be a major Lay Conference in Harrogate in 2018, and I look forward to that important gathering.”

Bishop Helen-Ann added, “As I reflected on the call to this incredibly exciting role, some words of GK Chesterton came to mind: ‘There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same place.’ I can’t wait to get to know the people and communities of the Ripon Area. I hope that you will pray for me in this time of transition, as I will continue to hold the Diocese and particularly the Ripon area in my prayers as we begin this new season together.”

We offer a very warm welcome to Bishop Helen-Ann as she looks to begin her ministry in this diocese. Please pray for her.

This is the script of this morning’s Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2’s Chris Evans Show:

I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of Halloween. It’s not the spooky stuff or the violence done to a generation of turnips; its the Trick or Treat stuff that gets me. Isn’t the trick for me to not be at home that night … and the treat that the kids knocking on the door don’t have to meet me?

On the other hand, I love Halloween. I love the fact that it takes darkness seriously and compels us to face the reality of life and death.
OK, that’s not exactly what Halloween has become; but, it is what lies behind it all. All Souls night is when, traditionally, Christians remember those who have gone before them, face the power of bereavement and loss, and confront their own death. Here is where the rubber of faith hits the road of really tough human experience. As I know only too well – my dad died only a few weeks ago – the loss of people you love brings you face to face with your own mortality and the fragility of what it is to be human.

Well, that has the potential to plunge us into misery first thing on a Tuesday morning, doesn’t it? But, actually, All Souls (Halloween) can’t be separated from the day that follows it – by which I don’t just mean ‘Wednesday’, but All Saints Day. The darkness is followed by the light of celebration. For Christians this is all about our mortality – that death and fear don’t have the final word. At Christmas – now only seven or eight weeks away – we hear the great Gospel reading that defiantly whispers into the messiness of the world: “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot extinguish it.” Carry on with the story and we eventually get to Easter and the darkness of crucifixion being transformed by the quiet eruption of resurrection.

To live as if all were darkness is to cave in to the joylessness of fatalism; to live as if all were happy-clappy light is to prefer fantasy over reality. The celebration of All Saints – ordinary people discovering that light and love are eternal – only makes sense once we have taken seriously the darkness of All Souls that is all too real.

Anyway, I am missing Trick or Treat this year because I am here in London and not in Leeds.