This is the text of this morning’s Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:

The Dalai Lama was at Glastonbury yesterday, but not for the music. Twice he described human beings killing each other as “unthinkable”.

However, events of the last few days have, once again, demonstrated that human cruelty is all too thinkable. It has proved impossible not to be scarred by the images and sounds of violence in Tunisia, France and Kuwait. And they are simply the latest in a litany of horror and destruction.

I think it is easy to try to block out such images. Yet, the very human stories began to come through very quickly: of fear amid the silence, of desperation in trying to get information when there might not actually be any to get, of loss and shock. And now, as inescapable reality sinks in for those involved, the pain and grief can only grow in power.

And many of us wonder again what sense is to be made of this human propensity for violence – the nihilism that explodes into killing, whether it be dressed up in the clothing of religion, politics or tribalism. Maybe, we need to start by recognising that what William Blake admiringly called ‘the human dress’ has a fitting that also distorts and destroys. The policeman who shot the Tunisian gunman says that the killer had stopped shooting and was praying when he himself was shot. And we rightly ask: to whom was he praying and about what? And what sort of madness is it that makes God in the image of our most depraved imaginings?

Well, two images have imposed themselves on my own mind since the mayhem of the weekend. The first was the President of the United States singing the hymn written by a former slave trader who had been surprised by what CS Lewis called ‘joy': Amazing Grace. Obama went on to name each of those killed in the racist attack in Charleston, asserting that they had that grace. Not a grace that takes us out of the real world, but one that plunges us into the heart of both its joys and agonies. This, in the light of the forgiveness offered by those bereaved, defies the violence and denies it the end it seeks: a new cycle of destruction and vengeance.

The second image was one I read in the Hebrew Bible. The prophet Jeremiah buys a field … whilst besieged by the forces that will shortly occupy the land and drive the people into an interminable exile. In buying that field he invests in a future that cannot now be imagined. It looks ridiculous and wasteful. But, that small act of hope took the power away from the terrorists of the day.

It will be in such small visionary gestures that the demons of violence will be stripped of their crazed power, and a future opened up.

This is the script of this morning's Thought for the day on BBC Radio 4's Today programme:

Recently I was in Stuttgart and took part in a two-hour discussion with the German Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and the former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan. The theme of the event – which took place before more than ten thousand people – focused on a question: is the world spinning out of control?

It's a good question, isn't it? Austerity at home and protests on the streets; financial and economic brinksmanship in Greece – with the implications for the rest of Europe of a Grexit; the continuing brutality of Islamic State in Syria and Iraq; Ukraine and the confidence of a re-energised Russia; political instability and the threat of climate change. And that's just a sample from today's headlines.

The German Foreign Minister began by saying that the world has never been in such a dangerous place. Kofi Annan claimed that, actually, the world has never been safer. But, both went on to remind the audience of how the world was in the first half of the twentieth century, and only then compare with today.

I listened to this exchange and concluded that they were both right. It depends on your perspective. Only seventy years ago the world buried tens of millions of people who had died as the result of world war. Of course, this had been the second of these: we hadn't actually learned from the so-called 'war to end all wars' just a couple of decades before. I remember, as a small child, the Cuba missile crisis and the pervasive mood of fear. The Cold War itself, with the threat of nuclear annihilation, has also been quickly forgotten.

It seems to me that every generation thinks it might be the last. That the crises and challenges of today are the ultimate ones. That things have never been so bad. A bit like crime statistics: even if the figures go down, people for some reason still feel the fear. There are, of course, other examples.

Well, if you look at what fills the headlines and our screens, the world is in a pretty bad way. And it isn't hard to fuel the fear. But, hope has always defied this sort of thing. The Jews in exile in the eighth and sixth centuries BC faced the horrors of dislocation and alienation, but their poets fired their imaginations, helping them see beyond their immediate experience to what could one day come to be. Christian hope is rooted not in a simple reaction to the present challenges, but in being grasped by a vision of a different way – and then committing oneself to making it happen. The Christian vision of the Kingdom of God involves neither naïveté nor fantasy, but committed hope.

Perhaps what we need today is fewer analysts and commentators, and more poets: holding out a vision that fires the imagination and won't let us go.

It has been announced this morning that the Venerable Paul Slater, currently Archdeacon of Richmond and Craven, is to be the Bishop of Richmond in the Diocese of Leeds (West Yorkshire and the Dales).

Paul has served his entire ministry in West Yorkshire, knows the territory better than anyone, and has walked (at some cost) the journey of transition from three historic dioceses into the one we now have.

Why Richmond? Well, we argued throughout the process for creating the new diocese that the diocesan bishop should not have responsibility for creating and running an episcopal area (of which we have five). We lost the argument. However, the experience of the last year has proved us right. The quickest and easiest way to add capacity was to revive the dormant See of Richmond and appoint a suffragan bishop to it. However, based in Leeds, the new bishop will essentially cover the Leeds Episcopal Area, setting me free (as diocesan bishop) to attend in more detail to the diocesan creation and transformation.

Paul will hit the ground running – a key criterion for this post. He will need no induction into the diocese, the journey we are on, the challenges we face, or the structures we are creating/transitioning.

For the record, I looked at four people: two women and two men. Paul was unanimously approved by the advisory group that interviewed him. I am delighted with his appointment and look forward to what lies ahead.

How things have changed.
It is a week ago that I headed off to Stuttgart for the Kirchentag – the amazing conference put on across a German city every two years. I have been going for a while and it gets ever better. In 2013 in Hamburg I was invited to preach at the closing service: a congregation of 130,000 and televised nationally. This time I was asked (among other events) to take part in a conversation with Kofi Annan (former Secretary General of the United Nations) and the German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. The theme of the two-hour discussion: ‘The world is spinning out of control’.

Actually, I was not really needed in this discussion. Like the audience of ten thousand in the huge arena, I really wanted to listen to the two stars discussing what is going on in the world – in the hope of learning something. I did learn, and they deserved the standing ovation at the end. (I was also uncomfortable, though, because I went straight off to hospital after the event to be told I had an “atypical pneumonia” (chest and throat infection) and had to stop. No wonder I wasn’t firing on all cylinders.)

Introduced by the excellent moderator, television journalist Arnd Henze, Steinmeier began with the sort of intelligent paper to be expected from a serious German politician. One of his basic points was that Germany’s behaviour in the twentieth century had caused the world to spin out of control and that Germany now had to take responsibility in the world – not standing back where there is need. He was realistic about the demands and expectations of solutions. Both principled and pragmatic, he passionately articulated the moral obligation to be engaged in the seemingly intractable conflicts and troubles of a changing world.

Having quoted the former Chancellor Willy Brandt, he asserted:

Heute, 32 Jahre nach Willy Brandts Rede ist diese Welt keineswegs friedlicher geworden. So lange ich denken kann, kann ich mich an keine Zeit erinnern, in der internationale Krisen in so großer Zahl an so vielen Orten gleichzeitig auf uns eingestürmt wären wie heute. (Today, 32 years after Willy Brandt’s speech, the world has not become at all more peaceful. As long as I can remember, I cannot think of any time when so many international crises in so many places have simultaneously piled in upon us.)

In his paper later, Kofi Annan wanted to put this into perspective, claiming that the world is a safer and better place today than it was in the past. Urging everybody – particularly the younger generations – to take their responsibility in leading peaceful change in the world (starting small and local), he demonstrated the patient pragmatism that made him able to lead the United Nations through previous crises. In the later discussion I tried to put this into perspective: only 75 years ago nearly 80 million people died in a global conflict – every generation faces its own crises and every generation fears it might be the last

Steinmeier, however, summed up the approach when he said:

Vieles hat sich verändert in diesen Jahren – die Aufgabe nicht. Die Aufgabe von Außenpolitik ist geblieben – wie Willy Brandt ohne jedes Pathos beschrieben hat, nämlich: dass illusionsfreie Bemühen, zur Lösung von Konflikten beizutragen. In einer streitbefangenen Welt voller Krisen und Konflikte, voller Missgunst und Hass, dem Frieden auf die Sprünge zu helfen. Und Frieden lässt sich nicht herbeiwünschen. Er entsteht nicht durch öffentliche Erklärungen; nicht einmal durch Resolutionen der UNO. Selbst die Frage, ob ich Recht habe ist unerheblich. Frieden will erarbeitet werden, meistens dann wenn das was man braucht zum Friedensschluss: Vertrauen, schon restlos ruiniert ist. Deshalb, wenn die Konfliktparteien nicht mehr zu einander kommen, dann kommt es auf Dritte an.

(Much has changed during these years – but the task has not. The task of foreign policy remains the same – as Willy Brandt described without any pathos: the illusion-free commitment to contribute to the resolution of conflicts; in a world of disputation, full of crises and conflicts, filled with resentment and hatred, to lend a hand to peace. And peace doesn’t just happen. It doesn’t come from public statements; not even from UN resolutions. Even the question whether I am right or not is irrelevant. Peace must be worked at, particularly when what is needed for a peaceful conclusion – trust – has already been totally destroyed. Therefore, when the conflicted parties cannot approach each other, that is the time when the Third Party comes onto the stage.)

My contribution was miniscule. But, despite the limitations of such a format, it was a privilege to be invited to take part in this discussion with people who are so deeply engaged in a world that I (and the churches) touch on mainly because of our deep international partnerships and links across the continents.

I began with a statement about how things have changed. This pertains mainly to the fact that I have blogged my way through previous Kirchentags – in order to give wider access to the riches experienced and heard there. These days there is little time for writing this blog – something I regret and hope one day to recover.

This is the text of my maiden speech – for better or worse – in the House of Lords this afternoon. It should be viewable here.

My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate – especially given the kindness I have already met in this House since being introduced in February. I wish to express my gratitude to all sides of the House for the welcome I have received, and particularly to the staff who have assisted and advised me – sometimes on the same issue more than once. This coming Saturday I will be speaking in Stuttgart before thousands of people, along with Kofi Annan and the German Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. At least I can address this house in English.

I find myself in something of a quandary as one who has lived in many parts of England, but ended up in Yorkshire. In fact, coming to Bradford as the Bishop in 2011 was something of a return journey. I studied German and French at the University of Bradford in the late 1970s before retraining as a professional Russian linguist at GCHQ in Cheltenham – an experience that shaped me, not least in relation to an understanding of security-related matters such as military intelligence and the ethics of surveillance. And not only did the journey take me from intelligence (though not take intelligence from me, I hope) to theology, but also from a West Yorkshire industrial city that was beginning to decline – not only in wealth and productivity, but also in morale and confidence. Radical demographic change also led in those days to substantial social challenge as facts on the ground outstripped the creative ability to shape a post-industrial future.

When I returned to Bradford as the Bishop in 2011 – having served in the Lake District, Leicestershire and South London, latterly as the Bishop of Croydon – I found a very different place. And yet it was evident that the seeds of a determined vision for future development were evident in the creative energy of some of the key players in business, the Council, faith communities and the social sectors. As well as the real and continuing challenges it faces, Bradford today is a place of growing confidence and well-founded optimism.

Why am I talking about Bradford when I am now the Bishop of Leeds? Well, for two reasons. First, because the Church of England has done something remarkable in Yorkshire, and, secondly, because Bradford will be one of the touchstones of success or failure in relation to the government's much vaunted aspirations for a Northern Powerhouse. (I always thought the real northern powerhouse was Liverpool Football Club, but, after its dismal end to the season, I am keeping quiet about that.)

Four years ago the Church of England – not widely known for its cheerful and adventurous willingness to change itself – began a unique process of reorganisation. The dioceses of Bradford, Ripon & Leeds, and Wakefield – all created in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century in order to enable the Church to adapt to changed demographic and industrial realities – faced dissolution and the creation from them of a single new diocese for the region. A three-year process of debate led to a visionary agreement to do just this, and the Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales came to birth at Easter 2014. I became the diocesan bishop just a year ago this week. The diocese covers a vast rural area of West and (parts of) North Yorkshire, urban conurbations of Bradford, Leeds, Wakefield, Huddersfield, Halifax, Barnsley, and everything in-between. Now organised into five episcopal areas, we can maximise the potential for serving the region – a region with an economy greater than that of Wales – whilst optimising our attention to the distinctive local realities of local communities. Challenging? Yes. Exciting? Definitely. I am privileged to be leading a diocese that encompasses so many of the lived realities that need to be represented in this House as the details and implications of government policies are debated and scrutinised.

The relevant point here is that the future has to be shaped by those who have both vision and commitment. Complaint that the world has changed is usually the recourse of those who mourn a version of the past that probably never existed anyway. And one of the lessons we have learned through the often painful processes of reorganisation and institutional change is the need to focus on the big picture as well as the detail, never losing sight of the vision that drives us.

I think this has a wider application. In response to the Gracious Speech last week, I heard in this House several speakers refer to the need for reform of this House. Yet, this occurred in the context of the potential – or threat … depending on how you see it – for wider constitutional change. The role of the United Kingdom in Europe cannot be divorced from the questions about the possible fragmentation of the United Kingdom itself. My fear is that bits of reactive slicing here and picking there will lead to a frustrating and unworkable sequence of partial reordering that loses sight of any common purpose or overarching vision. In this context I will simply observe that calls for a Constitutional Convention have the obvious virtue of bringing together a wide range of otherwise potentially atomistic concerns that should be considered together, taking cognisance of the fact that they interrelate anyway and will have inevitable consequences that would best be anticipated and debated rather than faced ad hoc and merely reacted to.

On questions of our place in Europe I will hope to return in future debates in this House. I have lived briefly in both Germany and France, I co-chair a commission that brings together the Protestant Church in Germany and the Church of England – the Meissen Commission – and I am concerned not only about institutional national engagement with Europe, but also with how we develop a new narrative for Europe that captures the imagination of my own children's generation in a way that the narrative derived from the mid-twentieth century response to war no longer does. I could say much more – illustrated particularly by a debate I had with Herman van Rompuy in Brussels a couple of years ago -, but will leave it to another day.

I said there was a second reason why I mentioned Bradford: the Northern Powerhouse. Just under a year ago I moved from Bradford to Leeds – about ten miles – and now live in a different world. Leeds is well connected and thriving in many areas. Key to this development over the last forty years has been transport. Not only does the motorway system make Leeds quickly accessible from so many parts of the country, but it's rail links open it up to wide opportunities.

It seems to me that any concept of a Northern Powerhouse has to concentrate less on north-south links and focus more on building expandable infrastructure from west to east. Talk of the Northern Powerhouse usually includes reference to Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool – understandably so. But, unless cities like Bradford are connected – and you can't currently go by one train across Bradford as there are two stations and they are not joined up – they will get left behind. The burgeoning of Britain's youngest city (in terms of age profile of the population) – with it's cultural, gastronomic, tourist and commercial riches – must not be wasted by planning that compromises longer-term development by shorter-term limitations.

I spent eight years on the board of an international insurance company (from 2002-10) and learned a good deal about business, finance, organisational change and the shaping of business to serve not just profit, but those whom profit is there to benefit. At the end of all deliberations – be they political, economic, cultural or financial – are the people who make or break our societies. By serving in this House I hope to have the adventure and humility to learn. I also have a responsibility to represent here the lived experience of people in the communities served by the church in West Yorkshire and the Dales. This includes those of wealth creation, business, enterprise, the rural economy, and industry. It also includes those who, whatever my own thoughts about the rightness or wrongness of particular policies, suffer the consequences of poverty, need and hopelessness.

There is a verse in the Old Testament book of Proverbs that stood as an indictment of much of the Christian Church in Germany in the 1930s and '40s. It says: “Open your mouth for the dumb.” In other words, give a voice to the experience of those who otherwise are silenced. I believe this is why the Lords Spiritual are here – rooted in communities across the whole of our country, networked internationally, informed (often inconveniently) and compelled to tell the truth as they see it. I hope to fulfil this vocation with the humility and confidence it surely demands.

My Lords, all the work of both this House and the established Church is done in the glare of media scrutiny – and rightly so. Intelligent and healthy media are vital to a living democracy. But, as someone very engaged with the media, I remember the caution expressed by a former Bishop of Durham. Once, when feeling depressed and misrepresented by the media, he had lunch with a rabbi. The rabbi told him the story of a bishop and a rabbi sailing on the lake in a park. The rabbi's skull cap blew off and floated away on the water. The bishop instantly stood up, got out of the boat and walked on the water to retrieve it. He got back into the boat and handed it back to the rabbi. The next morning's headline read: “Bishop can't swim!”

My Lords, we need to keep things in perspective.

 

This is the text of this morning’s Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2’s Chris Evans Show – with Chris just having returned from the Monaco Grand Prix:

Well, there I was at the weekend, listening to some old Bruce Cockburn stuff, when, in one of those coincidences you just can’t plan for, Lewis Hamilton’s face came on the telly while Bruce was singing his epic song Anything can happen.

Basically, Anything can happen simply makes the point that when you go out in the morning, anything can … er … happen. And, as Lewis discovered in Monaco, we can’t control everything all of the time. The best laid plans, and all that… I mean, I’m a Liverpool fan, so I know what I’m talking about.

But, why should this be a surprise? And what are we supposed to do when things don’t go according to plan?

I guess people fall into two camps. There are those who whinge and moan and think the world is against them; and there are those who just get on with it – whatever the ‘it’ is, and however good or bad ‘it’ is. After all, we can’t change the world to make it suit us, and we can’t control other people to make them fit in with what might make us feel happiest.

This isn’t exactly new, is it? You sometimes hear people speak as if you only have to get the formula right (pun intended) and everything will fall into place. Follow these seven steps to success, and you will be healthy, wealthy and wise! But, we know that nothing can be guaranteed and formulae don’t work. There can even be a temptation – for people of faith – to think that if you press all the right ‘God buttons’, life will go well and you will be spared the messiness and sickness and fragility that being mortal brings with it.

But, the reality is that even for the faithful, there are no promises other than that: whatever the world throws at us, we will not be abandoned.

So, anything can happen and anything can happen! No deals, no bargains and no fixes. Frightening? Maybe. Exciting? Definitely. But, the good news is – and I say this through gritted teeth – that you’ll never walk alone…

Tomorrow evening I will be chairing the 2015 Sandford St Martin Awards ceremony at Lambeth Palace. These annual awards are prestigious and pull in some amazing examples of excellent programming.

The re-shaped Trust has this year attracted an enormous number of entries in three categories: television, radio and – for the first time – children. Our short listers did a brilliant job, and the winners will be announced tomorrow evening. (The list is too long, so go here to see the full set.)

The first prize of the evening will go, as always, for the Radio Times Readers Award – the only one voted for by the public.

It has also been announced this week that this year's Trustees Award will go to the BBC's wonderful Chief International Correspondent, Lyse Doucet – an award that will be presented to her by James Harding, head of News at the BBC.

Exciting, or what?

Anyway, before then I will be doing Pause for Thought on the Chris Evans Show on BBC Radio 2 and then rushing off to the House of Lords for the State a Opening of Parliament and the Queen's Speech (and other meetings). More anon, if I get time to think and write.

 

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